We opened on Friday night and it was grand. We had about 70 people in the audience and they were in a good mood and laughed in all the right places. They even seemed to enjoy the second act more than the first (not unusual, plays are generally written to start a little slowly and build to the conclusion at the end of the last act.) Because the audience was having a good time, the actors had a good time too. There is usually an air of excitement both on-stage and back stage on opening night. Opening night audiences are primed to like a show. It is just something that happens practically every opening.
Our audience was a really good one. Not only did they laugh, they applauded at the end of each scene and for a good long time at the bows. Heaven!
It is the tradition at this theatre company to have a small reception after the show on opening night. There is a "meet and greet" with the actors and the audience is very happy to share their impressions of the show and the performances. We provide nibblies and champagne (or cider) and the audience sticks around awhile to nosh and chat with the actors.
I have been working with this group on and off for the last 8 years or so, but this was the first show I've done in nearly two years. Many people in the group gave me lovely compliments on the performance, the show, and said they were glad to see me back on stage. That is very gratifying. Now admittedly, this audience was made up of a lot of season subscribers and "regulars", so I wasn't surprised by their nice comments (I have always received a warm response to my roles), still it reminded me yet again how lovely it is to have a group of people tell you to your face how much they like you!
Now Saturday night was a bit different. Firstly, it was a much smaller audience (only about 35-40). As we all know laughter is contagious, but with fewer people there are fewer laughs (people don't laugh by themselves!) Nevertheless, they laughed, just not as much as Friday. Although there was no reception after the Saturday show, most people like to come over to congratulate the actors and give their "reviews".
After doing theater for over 30 years (oh, wow, I'm older than dirt!), I have developed a theory on audience behavior, based on observation and experience over those years. To wit:
Friday Night Audiences: They have just finished their work week. They are out for a good time. They are relaxed and happy. They pay attention and catch all the subtleties. They laugh at everything and they love you.
Saturday Night Audiences: They have spent the day doing a gazillion things errands, laundry, shopping, little league, and so on. They are pooped. They are slightly cranky and a little impatient.
They sit back in their seats, cross their arms, and look like they are thinking, "All right, I'm here, so entertain me!" They will laugh and love you too....but not right away! They make you work for it!!
Sunday Matinee Audiences: There are many Seniors who come in groups from retirement homes and community centers. They are quiet and polite. They seem to enjoy it but they don't laugh much. They smile a lot, but they don't laugh. However, after the show is over they will tell you it was the best thing they have ever seen! But they don't laugh!
My theory played out to a tee for our opening weekend (although we didn't have a matinee).
There was one odd occurrence Saturday night that I have never encountered before. I open the second act on a telephone call. It is essentially a fairly long monologue with pauses built in just like in a real phone call. During the first 6 or 7 lines (and pauses) of the monologue, there were two women in the audience fairly close to the front who were having a full-voice conversation complete with laughing, at the same time I was doing the monologue! They appeared to be totally oblivious to my presence! I found myself having to speak over their voices which kind of threw me. Of course, there was nothing I could do but carry on, but I was seething! How rude! Finally someone in the audience very loudly "SHHHHH-ed" them and they stopped but it was still very distracting. I don't think it caused me to drop any lines, but it was tough. Did they think they were watching a movie or TV??? I don't know, but they sure weren't watching me! Strange.
After weeks of rehearsals four nights a week, it is odd not to be at the theater tonight, but we will have a speed line run on Thursday night and then 2 weekend performances. There will be a total of seven more performances over the next three weekends. Each weekend we complete is rather bittersweet, knowing that the number of performances remaining keeps dwindling. One of the things I like the best about doing theater is that each production has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is a scheduled cycle. We have finished the beginning, finished the middle, and are on our way to the end. That is the way it always goes, once we have opened we are on a countdown to the end....and that part always makes me sad.