"How can you do the same show over and over again?"
I'm asked that a lot. But that question assumes that the actor simply delivers the same performance every show. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. True, the script doesn't change - if you don't count the very human occasional dropped or swapped words or lines, the props don't change, lighting and sound -again if you don't count human error- and the basic blocking (moves and positions) don't change. But every show is unique, every performance has its surprises and moments of discovery for the actor.
Last night had the most fresh moments and surprises so far (with only one muffed line- one I've never stumbled over before! Ah, the theater gods!) and it was a lot of fun. A whole new ride, which now 8 weeks into The Marsh run, was exhilarating!
How can that be? you might ask.
Because in every show, in every scene, the actors play off of each other in each moment. For a solo performer, with no other actor on stage, the audience becomes our scene partner. Meaning, we play off the reactions and "read" of the audience. And that audience is different at every single show. So the alchemy of live theater means every night's performance is different.
It's a subtle thing, the dance between the actor and the audience. Stage lights are blinding and we can rarely see more than a few faces in the front row center. Because there are a few break out moments in my show, with raised house lights, I can actually see most faces in whichever direction I am looking. But those moments are few and far between. So it's mainly sensing reactions. Auditory reactions are easiest to read- sighs, breath catching, gasps, exclamations (one of my favorite from the back row, the admonishment, "Oh, no you didn't!"), murmurs, groans, uh uhs, rustling programs, tapping feet and laughter. But individual and waves of body movement like leaning forward, relaxing back, pulling away, jiggling knees and crossed arms all register (ditto nodding heads, but alas!).
So the actor, as a sentient being, feels those reactions, and reacts. How? Depends on the moments, on the lines, on the essence of the interplay. We aim to be intensely in the moment, to give our all and our very best every show. But I also set specific intentions before every show, a few things to improve from the last performance. It might include landing a specific moment, sharpening a transition or a more over arching intention like connecting more with the audience.
But once the show begins, it's a moment to moment dance. Like romance in a way. Same partners, but every moment is different.
Often the more the audience gives and is with us, the more we give. But it's complex. Laughter can be fun and seductive, and some audiences laugh in brand new places, so of course, one responds to that. Sometimes, there is one person who laughs alone; other times, that person starts a crescendo wave of laughter, so the timing of lines leaves more space for physical action. Sometimes, there is an almost deafening silence. But often those quietest audiences are the most emotionally engaged (confess, it took me a while to fully grasp that), and that engagement is palpable and engrossing for the actor. A full house is often electric, a smaller house more intimate.
One fellow fringe artist described a performance of his Breakneck Hamlet (a 55 minuite, condensed, one man Hamlet- a brilliant physical and linguistic feat which had won raves across North America) in Great Britain. About 10-12 minutes in, he saw one person walk out. Then another. Then two more. He was delivering, so thought maybe it was his American accent, or affront that an American had the timerity to abridge Shakespeare!! But he let go of all those thoughts. In that moment, he decided he would woo the audience, draw them in and show them Shakespeare as they'd never seen it, whatever that meant. And the moment he flipped that internal motivation switch, someone standing up sat back down. Someone in the exit door turned and stayed. And no one else left! He got a standing ovation, and the amount of money in his tip boot was his greatest haul ever!
That's not to suggest walking out will improve every performance! Just an extreme example of the alchemy between performer and audience, and the manifestation of intention. What exactly did he do? It would take analyzing a video recording to know. But I have shared that story often with performers worried that their audience isn't getting them, and it helped.
So what made last night so different? The audience. Can I put my finger on why? If I could, I'd bottle it, aereosol it, and make a fortune! Left grateful for being open to the unfolding.
So, if you've ever wondered if you and a friend actually saw the same show- well, yes and no! You, the audience, help create the show you see!
With gratitude for each and every one of you.
My Stroke of Luck continues at The Marsh, San Francisco through February 3rd, Thursdays @ 8PM, Saturdays @5 PM and Sundays 1/21 and 1/28 @ 2 PM.
And below, my just released, new trailer or Sizzle reel!