Thursday, November 20, 2008

Funny business

We've been getting small audiences for the current show. The smallest we had was four. Tonight we had five. One night we got up over twenty. That was pretty exciting.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful, or diva-ish, but it's really hard to perform for a small audience. Part of the joy of live theatre is the symbiosis between actors and audience. It's a shared experience.

Never is this more apparent than in comedy. Comedy needs a crowd. Most people will not laugh out loud if they are watching a movie in their living room. But put them in a crowded movie theatre and they laugh hysterically. This is why sitcoms add a laugh track or perform in front of a (laughing) studio audience- to give the viewer at home the perception of being in a crowd.

Small audiences are often afraid to laugh. They worry that if they bust out laughing they will disturb the person next to them, or bother the actors on stage. They worry they will laugh at the wrong time. In a crowd, if several people are laughing you have a buffer.

My advice to you as an audience member at a live performance? Laugh if it is funny. Please, please, PLEASE laugh. Often all it takes is one person to get the others to let loose a little chuckle. In fact, they used to have a person hired by the theatre to laugh at all the jokes. (Likewise there were people to lead the applause, etc.)

Look, I'll forgive you if your cell phone rings (as long as you don't ANSWER it) or you open a noisy candy wrapper if you would just. please. laugh.

Monday's Mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write a post in the style of a bill. If it's funny... I promise I'll laugh!


Chrissy said...

Oh, I would laugh at you if I came to see your show, I promise.

I probably would purposefully laugh if I was in your audience; I can't take those awkward silences.

I hope you get a good crowd next time.

Kat said...

OH NO!!! You are kidding! I can't imagine performing in front of just a handful of people! I would be so nervous! I've OFTEN told people that I would rather perform in front of 5000 people than 5 people. It is SO intimidating!
And you're so right about the crowd participation. It means everything.
Yipes. Hang in there!

thailandchani said...

I can imagine that.. why people wouldn't laugh out loud. I've always stifled my laughter, too.. unless there is a crowd. Only four people though? Yikes! That would be hard!


Anonymous said...

maybe I could get that job? I always laugh out loud in theaters.

heather said...

You know, when I'm teaching fitness classes it's the same thing - it really sucks to teach to less than 5, I can't imagine having to do a play. Do you ever cancel? Like what if there were only TWO people?

Anonymous said...

it cracks me up that my husband laughs at the tv.

i wrote my dissertation on the way theater audiences figure in turn-of-the-century novels

the dragonfly said...

Back in high school my director used to halfway joke that she was going to give my mom free tickets to every show because she laughs at EVERYTHING. She's the perfect audience member. :)

Kyla said...

I'm more likely to laugh at something when alone than with a small group. Makes me self-conscious. I've noticed that Josh has two laughs, one is his normal laugh and one happens when he thinks something is really funny and he wants to draw my interest to it, too. Interesting stuff.

Julie Pippert said...

I will keep that in mind. :)

And hope for bigger audiences for you.

Rima said...

If it's funny, nothing will keep me from laughing. A BYOB performance might help loosen the crowd up a little, though.

Louise said...

You poor Girl! I would laugh. I wouldn't care.

Did they advertise this well?

Candygirlflies said...

Hah... I remember a show where we played to a house that was SO small (and silent), that the lead actress gave up and broke off halfway through a scene. She peered out into the audience and offered to relocate the performance to her livingroom, where she would ply them all with food and drink.

Hey, the CREW was all "on board" to take her up on it... Especially the DRINK part...

On the flipside, we had an "altercation" in the audience during a performance of "The Trojan Women" last summer. Someone's cellphone went off THREE TIMES, and when the owner finally answered it and proceeded to CHAT, the guy in the seat next to him stood up and punched his lights out. It took three ushers to break it up. Now THAT'S what I call a "Greek Tragedy"!

As we say in The Biz, "Bite 'em in the butt!!"

xoxo CGF

another good thing said...

I am the loudest laugher ever-- after a few drinks.
Maybe you need to offer free cocktails??

womaninawindow said...

I hope this doesn't come across the wrong way but I would so laugh my butt off at you and your play. See? It doesn't sound so good but I mean it in a good way.

Kate said...

oh poor you! nothing worse than playing to an audience who really aren't giving you any feedback!! I promise if i'd been there i'd have been rolling around and falling off my seat!!;)

Aliki2006 said...

I would definitely laugh, I would. I'm sorry about the awkwardness--I think that would be uncomfortable for everyone.

alejna said...

It is really interesting to think about the behavior of individuals vs. small groups vs. big groups. A movie can seem so much better if there is a large group that is engaged.

I promise that I will laugh next time I go to a live performance. At the jokes that is.

You know, I'm reminded a bit of the book Bellwether, by Connie Willis. It's a novel about fads, but much of it is about how people will follow the behavior of certain individuals. Like sheep.

I'm also reminded of a class I taught last January. It was miserable, due to there only being 6 people attending. There were days when only 2 or 3 would show up. And the worst thing was, they didn't laugh at my jokes.

No Mother Earth said...

Amen! (Although, I will amend that to say that if you have a REALLY LOUD and VERY DISTINCTIVE laugh, or if you laugh at EVERYTHING no matter if it is funny or not, I would rather that you remain silent. It breaks my shaky concentration.)

I hate it when the cast outnumbers the audience. I have issues.