What a pair of days we've had.
Yesterday we opened here at ART, which went wonderfully--a great evening, with an energetic audience. I enjoyed the show thoroughly form my side, and the whole endeavor felt like the most glorious kind of play, rather than work. After the show we stayed in the lobby for hours, drinking beer and gossiping with the staff about theater, life, theater, careers, theater and more theater. Jean-Michele brought Baci (our pug) over from the apartment which is right nearby and he romped around the lobby, trying to drink everyone's beer. It was the best of times.
I woke up today tired, and had a long notes session with Jean-Michele, where she suggested a few deft but MASSIVE changes to the mid-show structure. Suddenly I was up against the clock--we teched to alter a bunch of light cues in response to the reality of seeing the show for the first time, and I was racing to get the outline amended in time. I had scissors, tape, new pads, stickies, cutting and recutting pages, taping one new section to an old section, forging a new shape for the middle of the show in the half-hour before house opened. I just barely managed to close it up as we opened the house...
...and an extremely small number of people walked in. We're talking a 20% full house--very rough territory. The monologues are built extemporaneously, and this makes them very alive, but it also means that they are more responsive to low energy as well, and as the show opened the energy was hideously low. The first few scenes were deadly silent from the house. Like the grave.
Now, I've been doing this a long time, and when this happens the key element is to never panic. I try to not pander to the audience--ultimately they're smarter than I am, and even in a sparse house they outnumber me by a wide margin. I played the house slowly, building small victory on victories, and by midpoint in the show they had relaxed enough and forgotten their loneliness enough to make some noise...and by the close of the show we were in a good place.
Nonetheless it hurts like hell--a house that light, right at the top of the run, on the heels of a full house, is always a shock. It's also hard to be in the midst of changes to our outline and flight plan when caught unawares--there's a terror to the audience dissolving down, born out of the fear that if there are too few, in too large a space, they will disperse and no longer form an audience as a whole, and be merely a series of individuals. Some of my best friends are individuals, but individuals aren't good at having the higher-order social reactions that make audiences such interesting animals.
When you run an energy debt like that, you pay the bank--I feel like I climbed a mountain dragging a cart behind me. I'm exhausted, but I'm glad we made it to the top--as i get older that's something that happens more often, even when the house isn't there for you, and I'm glad it worked.
We'll see what tomorrow brings. As they say, sometimes you're the hammer, and sometimes you're the anvil. On particularly bad days you're caught between.
Crossposted to the ART blog