“The virtue of dress rehearsals is that they are a free show for a select group of artists and friends of the author, and where for one unique evening the audience is almost expurgated of idiots.” ~ Alfred Jarry
Don’t you just love audiences? That sounded insincere. I really do love audiences. Performing live in front of an appreciative audience is the greatest feeling ever.
But every so often a bad apple buys a ticket to the show.
I was doing a one man show in a pretty intimate venue. The way the theatre was configured, there was very little space between the stage and the audience. If I wanted to sit in an audience member’s lap, I estimate it would take about one and a half strides from the edge of the stage to said lap. The light spills into the house so much so that the we can see the audience nearly as well as they can see us. We can hear them, too.
About five minutes into act one I heard a rustling sound, like a candy wrapper opening.
Aside to anyone intending to see a live performance: Think of opening a candy wrapper as removing a band-aid. The faster you do it, the better. If you really must unwrap a candy during the show (e.g. a life-threatening medical emergency) do it quick. The volume of a crinkling candy wrapper does not vary with the speed of unwrapping. Opening the wrapper slowly only prolongs the sound. If you do it right, nobody will even notice. It will be written off as a temporary short or bit of static in the sound system.
But I digress.
I ignored the sound for a while but it just did not stop. There was no end to this crinkling sound. I had to investigate. It was a one man show. I could move my blocking anywhere I wanted, and I took right to the crinkler in question.
As it turns out, it was not a candy wrapper. It was an elderly lady rooting through a plastic shopping bag, a bag from a grocery store.
The script didn’t lend itself to improv/audience interaction. There wasn’t anything I could do but continue on with the show.
The sound continued through the entirety of the first act! I don’t know what she was looking for and I don’t know if she ever found it.
Why do audiences behave like this? Why do these things happen? I think it’s because we’re so used to watching television in the privacy of our own homes. We’re used to sitting on our couches, walking in and out of the room as the spirit moves us. If we don’t like what’s happening on the screen, we talk back to it. If we really don’t like what’s happening we just change channels.
Here’s a hilarious blog post by Carey Purcell called Twelve Simple Ways to Ruin a Night at the Theater. (Fair warning – one of the items on the list is “adult” in nature.)