Monday, December 15, 2008

A spoonful of chaos helps the theater go down.

I am probably one of the worst people to have in the audience when something goes wrong on stage. Especially if I have directed the show. A line gets flubbed, a prop gets dropped, a costume rips.

And I laugh.

I laugh my head off, and loudly.

The aim is never to throw anyone off or point a shaming finger in the direction of the actors. In my own sadistic way, I mean to show support. When the line is flubbed or the prop drops, that actor's wheels begin turning in a way that they hadn't before. Autopilot is no longer an option.

A few years ago, during a debate over why the general public does or does not see theater, one of the fellows in the conversation said:

"People go see theater to watch you fuck up."

He offered no other explanation for anyone to attend theater and I immediately dismissed him as a dumb galoot who had no idea what he was talking about. I, for my part - being the ripe old age of 24 - expounded on the virtues of Thee-A-Tuh, how an audience goes to have communion with one another, to learn, to see a tale well told...all the clap trap we tell ourselves to keep moving forward into one production after the next.

I believe these things are still true to an extent, but I'm not so sure the dumb galoot wasn't on to something.

I don't know why anyone sees theater. Hell, I don't know why I see theater. Why this show and not that one? Why this night and not another? Was there a friend in the show? Was the poster neat? Cheap tickets? It could be any one of these reasons...or none of them.

When I do go, however, when I get there, I want to see some dancing on razor wire. This doesn't mean that every second there should be some kind of stage calamity. Repeated incompetence on stage is just as tiresome as stale, rote recitation. It's the possibility that all this craft - all these costumes, the lines learned- could fall apart at any second.

And still, we see a good story. Still, we get to have that ephemeral conversation between audience and actor. Virtuosity in the face of complete and utter failure.

As theater people we fool ourselves that there is some sort of perfected end product. That, when all is said and done, and we've rehearsed enough, and we've had our eighteen fight calls, and we've seen to it that every light or sound cue is meticulously programmed - then we can have a stage show that is polished and without flaw. We have control. If we do it the same way every night then it is good.

Who is to say that it is not good? It may very well be good. But to pretend that nothing will deviate from the Plan is a deceit. It's the worst kind of deceit, too. For when the moment of deviation comes, when failure and humilation are ineluctable, and the actors and crew pretend that nothing is wrong, the audience sniffs it out the hoodwink. That is the moment in which we have lost.

It is natural to want polished perfection. It is natural for actors to want normality, they are only human after all. Humans want a reasonable assumption that what they are performing from one night - or day - to the next will be somewhat similar. Routine.

No one wants to admit to this. I've had many late night conversations with fellow actors or directors in which we poo-poo the Namby Pambies who HAVE to have everything the same night after night and how deadly that theater is. Secretly, we're all terrified that there might be a heckler or a cell phone ring.

It is precisely those incidents, that cause a performer to come alive and respond to his or her environment. When two actors look at each other in the midst of the chaos and say "Okay, wherever you want to take this, I'm in." the scene comes alive in ways that it might not have before. In that instance, the artists become one of the audience, not above it.

I don't think people go to the theater to see you fuck up. Of course they go for all that blah-blah-blah we talk about.

Well...maybe they want to see you fuck up just a little.

Just know when you make some sort of clumsy entrance or an audience member won't stop yacking, you will hear my donkey bray from the back of the house.

I mean no harm. It's my way of cheering you on.


joe g said...

It's also been said that people go to auto races to watch the crashes.

My father, an avid race fan for 60+ years, would argue against that. But he also prefers live sporting events to dramatic films (where everything HAS been nailed down by time it's exhibited) because while he can pretty much figure out how a film is going to end, you never quite know what's going to happen in a race or football game etc.

So I can see your point, a bit.

Today's Word Verification word: Holini.

Which is either a magician who makes large openings in the ground appear, or the sacramental pasta we'd consume at Communion if Jesus had been Italian.

Erica said...

Boy, we sure gave the audience something to see Saturday night, didn't we? Ha-cha-cha.


rebar said...

When you packed that CD player in your suitcase, it made running through the rain and waiting in the line at the Walgreens with only one register open entirely worth it.

Add to Technorati Favorites