Saturday, June 17, 2006

An open letter to certain members of the audience...

This is hard for me to say, because lord knows I want you to have fun. I want you to stay out late, and laugh loud, and get drunk and rock out at the theatre. I want you to know that "live performance" doesn't mean "fold your hands like good children and shut up." Keep all this in mind when I say to you, honestly, please, JAYsus, just because the show starts at 11pm doesn't mean you get to be total dipthongs.

Let's review:

Cackling with laughter, cheering the actors, being thoroughly engaged in the proceedings= good.
Making your own dumb little drunken jokes during quiet moments of a play= asshattery.*

Is that so hard?

Last night I saw "The Earl," a very cool and neatly done show that should have been both creepy as hell and funny as hell. The play opens with a long, genuinely tense moment of stalking. The lighting, the barely visible actor, the sound... they all worked together for about four seconds to give me a sense of visceral dread. After four seconds, some audience member decided to start audibly making fun of the barely visible actor's hair. Suffice it to say, my viscera checked out.

The show was still fun and bloody, but that idiot did take something away from it. The people at Red Orchid know what they're doing- I could see how that long creepy moment, followed as it was by immediate brutal violence, was meant to affect the rest of the play. For one thing, it would have made it much funnier. Make people scared and uncomfortable first, and they'll laugh their guts out. The move from terror to humor was well planned, and I could SEE it, as an informed technician, but I didn't get to feel it.

News flash, buddy. Nobody came here for you.

Ok, rant over. Go see the Earl, I liked it anyway. Note, it's being marketed as an old school micro-budget late-night shock fest (they've even downgraded the fliers,) but it's not the kind of old-school Chicago late-night splatter shock-fest you have to be drunk to enjoy. It's disciplined, tight and well acted. Sigh. I think the marketing campaign is cool, but I worry that it's giving certain people the wrong impression. I'd appreciate the thoughts of anyone who went to see it on a different night.

Actually, that's a lovely general question for this week. What's the line between being an engaged, responsive audience member and being a jerk? How much noise is too much noise? How much noise isn't enough? If anyone involved with the show happens to read this, what have your audiences been like in general?

Very quickly- last week, I took in "Gaudy Night" at Lifeline. It's one of their adaptations, and it's romantic, if a little stilted at the exposition. It brought back pleasant memories of my own time at Oxford, which is, and always has been, a rarefied, weird and seductive place. It also brought back a less pleasant Oxford memory, which is something of a spoiler and will thus be the second footnote.*


*It may be excusable to crack a joke during a really really really really bad play. Mean as hell, but excusable. And by really bad, I mean "makes you want to throttle yourself with your own tongue."

*Those who have read the book or seen the play will get the connection: On her birthday, the scout for my dorm came to work drunk, with a black eye. To our horror, she defecated all over the washroom and smeared it around. Ah, the scout system. Introducing awkward matters of class to well-meaning undergraduates since the commoners got let into Oxford.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Matt said...

How much noise? It utterly depends on the production. Theatre is like live music. Some shows are a timeless piano concerto being rendered by a maestro, and a respectful hush is necessary so you can drink in the nuance of every expertly-played note. Other shows are your favourite band, wiggling their bum at the audience and getting you to join in the chorus on their number one jam. And there's everything in between. Respond to the show you're watching, says I.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Reina said...

There's noise, and then there's talking. I think most people making theatre like to hear vocal responses- laughter, cheers, etc- to their performances. But talking? Holding conversations about how silly an actor's hair looks?

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

No, talking, never. Even if it's just to explain bits of the plot to your neighbour. It's NOT okay, and I absolutely LOATHE when people do this. I'm a fairly conservative audience member, and I normally like to go along and watch as silently as possible (not including laughing, cheering etc. as prompted by the show), because, well, I've paid however much to come see a show, for goodness' sake! If I wanted to talk to my friends, I'd go with them to a pub! I also refuse to make fun of a show I'm not enjoying, because someone else might be enjoying it and it would be rude of me to ruin it for them. I guess my point above was that, in 'favourite band' shows, there's so much noise and audience response as part of the atmosphere that a little talking won't ruin things, whereas in 'piano concerto' shows, talking is a cardinal sin that should carry a penalty of public stoning.

12:43 AM  

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