I had the opportunity to see one of my plays recently. A grade 12 class used the play for a project and ended up performing it for their feeder schools. Initially, I was wary about the prospective audience. The play is abstract, no traditional characters, rapid fire monosyllabic dialogue, and based on the death of an offstage character. It really isn’t middle school fare.
I watched the students file in (so incredibly small). Talking, animated, herded into place by their teachers because otherwise, they would have scattered to the four corners. I sat in the back cringing slightly as the lights faded to black. And you know what? They were one of the best student audiences I’ve witnessed. They paid attention, and we could probably have done an hour long Q & A. They didn’t get everything in the play but they were engaged enough not to be restless and lose interest. They were, for the most part, silent. For the whole show.
The silent audience is, for lack of any better image, is my crack. As a playwright the silent audience is the ultimate compliment. It means that the audience is so into what they’re seeing they’ve forgotten to move. They’ve forgotten their uncomfortable seat. The person beside them. Their laundry. They are in the play. It’s my victory. And actually, it’s not just plays “” it’s workshops too, and talks. When I gave my talk at Brock University almost every student was typing on computers. And a couple of times there was total silence in the room because what I was saying made them stop. I work hard for that silence. It gives me such pride when it happens. And such agony when it doesn’t.
I will always remember sitting at the back of the theatre of my first play. There were maybe 20 people in the audience, it was December and there was silence. It didn’t matter that the theatre wasn’t full. It didn’t matter that it was snowing outside. And that’s when I became hooked. Writing plays was my life. I would chase that silence for the rest of my life.