Butts in Seats

backstage, opening night

It’s been an interesting and tough couple of weeks throwing this show together, but we’ve reached the finish line….or rather, the starting line.

Two nights ago we opened to a small, but warmly receptive, audience. The evening was replete with opening night fumbles from most of us, though nothing was likely noticed by the the audience. Not even the seemingly gaping hole filled only with the thoughts on stage of “why is no one speaking??”

And, even more, what the audience didn’t know was that when the SM got to the theater a few hours before call she discovered that all the light cues had disappeared from the board, and had to make an emergency call to the lighting designer (or his assistant) to come in and reprogram it all. Which she magically did.

I’m happy to say that last night didn’t have its often too typical second night slump, where the excitement and energy of an opening night can drop you like some crash after a sugar high. No, our Saturday night show ran pretty well, we felt. No blunders (well, okay, I had one or two funky lines and one incorrect word which could have changed things in the plot entirely, but really it all worked in the end) and things ran smoothly and on time. What’s more, I’ve come to realize that there is some fine work being done in this show. The mystery script is well written and the actors have come together to play rather well with each other. I’m really starting to enjoy this little gem, and am looking forward to its run.

What didn’t work last night, on a beautiful autumn evening, was having an audience. The group gathered in the house was smaller on this second night than on the first. Very small. This was rather disappointing. Felt a bit like a let down.

There are several problems with having a small audience, but I think that the main one is that everyone is aware of it. Everyone on stage and in the house. An audience member in this situation may not feel compelled to laugh or respond when it will easily make him or her noticed (though thankfully last night’s group did!) and that may be complicated by a feeling of being relied upon to laugh or respond. Okay…so now they aren’t relaxed and enjoying the show but are instead feeling their own pressure to perform. (Although I do think the folks last night did enjoy it…so my hypothesis may be totally off.)

Meanwhile, up on stage, actors are keenly aware of the few people (especially if they’re known to all or most of the cast) and perhaps feeling their lack of relaxation, and it all combines to give the whole thing a strange kind of air. It’s almost, but not quite, that of yet another dress rehearsal, and leaves us wondering when  the audiences arrive. This isn’t to say that the actors weren’t working as hard as they would’ve otherwise. That’s certainly not the case here. But in the end, it’s not quite the same experience as playing to fuller house made up of strangers.

What’s more, though, is that if this were a show where I was uncertain in my own work or questioned the quality of the acting, I might be less bothered by the small houses (or no reviewer to my knowledge, but that’s another story) but in this case, as I said to one my cast mates after the show, I think there’s some good work being done here and I hope people will witness it.

As for a reviewer…well, that might help put butts in seats, and that’s the only thing this production is currently lacking.

I’ll be there again today, at 4 pm, where I expect to take the experience of the last two performances and combine it with the knowledge learned from rehearsal, and hopefully forget all of it as the lights come up, and continue growing and polishing my work and my connection with my fellow actors. As I’ll do throughout the run.

If anyone cares to join me, Dial M for Murder is playing at the Gremlin Theater through November 19.

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