Monday, June 27, 2005

Laughter and Tears

Well, my show's been open for a full three weeks now and it finally seems to be settling in somewhat. It's been something of a challenge because the playwright continues to think of it as a development piece, so changes and adjustments are still being made. The usual scenario in professional theatre calls for changes such as we're being asked to make to continue only through Previews and maybe into Opening Weekend, but then the show basically gets turned over to the actors (with the AD/SM then having the responsibility to keep the show up to snuff, but nothing beyond that). It's essentially like corking a bottle of wine — a show needs to age in the bottle, so to speak, to reach its full perfection.

Regardless, the Tribune reviewed it favorably, so audiences have been building. Although billed as a comedy, the fact of the matter is that it's not uproariously funny, just pleasantly amusing throughout — until the end. In the final scene, we sort of throw a sucker punch and it's darn near impossible for the audience to keep from breaking into tears. Happy tears, but tears nonetheless. (Maybe "sucker punch" isn't quite right. Actually, it's more like going to a movie about a cute dog. You know, in the back of your mind, that there's a good chance you're going to end up crying over that damn dog by the end, but you're willing to take that risk in exchange for laughing at his antics the other 99% of the time.)

So this past weekend we had a group of 30-40 teenage girls in the audience, and they all sat together House Right. Normally I don't allow my focus to stray out into the audience very much — whether you might consider it a blessing or a curse, the modus operandi that works best for me is to include their reactive energy into the performance but keep them firmly beyond the fourth wall for a show like this — but this night I couldn't help but be more than usually aware of them because they were not reacting in synch with the rest of the House. Lines that scored a hearty chuckle from the House-at-large merited only a scornful snicker from their group, while some of the more sophomoric humor was met with peals of laughter from that quarter but silence from the larger body.

Anyway, we got down to the final moments of the show and, for whatever reason, this group intuited earlier than the rest of the audience where we were headed and just began sniffling en masse. It's a quiet-ish moment on stage, so I could tell that suddenly we actors were kind of sharing attention with the "Teenage Girl Chorus" as the rest of the audience began wondering why the heck the people in House Right were crying.

Oh, but wait... now The Girls have become self-conscious about their sniffling and have started to look at each other and laugh at how easily they've succumbed to mere emotion. Time to regain their composure and once again become Hipper Than Thou Chicks.

Which... (sniff)... would be a whole lot easier... (sniff)... if the action on stage that had made them cry in the first place weren't continuing to develop and, omigosh-here-we-go-again...

And so it continued — crying spate, laughing jag, outright weeping, group giggling — with hardly any need for us actors to do more than say our lines in order to inflict heavy casualties on their composure. In the end, we all came off stage and agreed, for lack of a better summation, that we had done our jobs and that they'd been a good audience.


I can't help feeling a little like a stand-up comedian who knows that even his crappiest material will fly if he's not the first act on stage — i.e., drunks are pushovers. Similarly, I have the oddest desire not to perform this show for groups of teenage girls anymore. That, of course, is entirely out of my hands, but I can't express how odd it is for this adult male — who admittedly suffered plenty at the hands of teenage girls when he himself was a nerdy/awkward/unpopular teenage boy and who has furtively sought to win the approval of young women ever since to salve his overt feelings of inadequacy — to suddenly find himself NOT wanting anything to do with this particular subset of the citizenry.

It's weird, yet somehow uplifting...

No comments: