Theater: It's not like television - We can hear you

In attendance -- among them several awesome cast members of Night of the Living Dead, the always entertaining Chuck and Brandon Windish, Lighting Designer Keith Arsenault,  two lovely couples I met at intermission who frequent The Gorilla and a whole sea of people ready to laugh and be scared --  was a middle-aged woman who had come there with a gentleman, I assume her husband, for some reason other than to watch the play.

This woman could not take her hand, eyes, whatever, off her fellow. No less than three times during the first act she clacked into her shiny and reflective purse to reapply her lipstick and clackity-clack it back away. She dropped her keys at one point, talked at a normal volume about not getting the play and what they will be doing afterward and, best of all, made a big display of seeming completely surprised and most definitely offended when another member of the audience leaned forward to tell her to zip it.

At intermission, I am told, she commented that it didn't matter if people yelled at her, she had a right to be there since she payed her ticket price.  She then, in defense (or perhaps she was feeling the audience's pressured stares), remarked that they should go because the second act wouldn't be any better than the first, to which another audience member responded, perhaps too quickly, that "the show would probably be really bad" and yet another audience member remarked that she was right in thinking she should leave, which she and her companion did.

Act II was brilliantly scary, as always, and way more exciting and intense, as always.  The audience members who encouraged the lady to leave were not, obviously, agreeing with this woman, but acting collectively as an audience of one who were feeling the strain of the one bad apple.  In the curtain speech, the spooky host very clearly tells the audience that talking is not permitted (which is a sad but necessary component of most curtain speeches today).  Apparently this is not enough instruction for some people.  Remarkably, however, last Thursday we had an entire audience of middle and high school students from Shorecrest Prep school who had the same curtain speech and promptly turned off their cell phones and were an incredible audience the whole show long.  One even brought his girlfriend back to Sunday's show and was very aware of the woman sitting behind him talking and clacking in her purse the whole first act.

Years ago, I remember one particularly rowdy audience member at a late night show of A Girl's Guide to Chaos at The Shimberg Playhouse, when his friend (who was not tanked) decided that it was best to escort his intoxicated friend away from the performance.  The audience applauded the heroic act of the sober friend and the theater company gave him a ticket to come back another night.  If your child is crying, is it not polite to remove yourself with your child from the audience?  And if the curtain speech clearly states that talking is not permitted during the show, should the other audience members have a right to enjoy the show without talking?

Why does one come to the theater if one does not want to watch the play?  Case in point: The Woman in Black sold out performance last night.  I directed the show and have been to just about every performance, so I tend to watch the audience as well as the play.  It is a thriller with many technical aspects that all need to be spot-on every night, so I watch how it is all played out and how it is all received by the audience.  So, Sunday night being a sold out show, I lingered on the sidelines so that those who paid for a ticket got a seat. I had the perfect view and it was the perfect audience. Almost.

Perhaps I should explain "perfect audience."  Have you ever been an observer of art with a whole room full of strangers with whom you collectively took the journey with the artist — as one?  Ever been at a performance where you needed to see that exact thing at that exact time in your life?  Ever been inspired collectively with the person sitting next to you, without talking to each other?  It is not a type of audience, per se, but rather the right combination for the particular experience at hand.

Conversely, as a performer or fellow audience member sitting in your vicinity, if you've had a bad day at work and can't shake it off, we feel it.  If you had too much to drink at happy hour before you got to the theater, we feel it.  If you are waiting for that voice mail or text message and want intermission to get here so you can check it, we feel it.  Or, in the case of last night's performance, if you did not come to the theater to watch a play, we feel it.

Sunday's play was 98 percent the perfect audience. 

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