Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thespians Do it Live

1. The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.

Does anyone know what the opposite of synergy is? Or rather, when a single element is slightly spun so the others get thrown out of whack? That happens, from time to time, when you deal with intricately sequenced events on the stage.

We come to theatre to see human stories (or whatever) presented live. It's almost like an action sport - we want it to go right...but we don't. We don't want anyone to get hurt. But I think there's part of us that likes to see something go wrong. Not even in a schadenfreude way, but in that way that somehow...connects us. We root for the actors (hopefully). We want to see someone handle something unexpected with poise and cleverness.

We want to see the show go on.

So the little mishaps I've seen so far this week - a fallen prop-purse leading to a number of Ricola drops spilling out onto stage leading to a flustered actress still managing to make a graceful and comical exit... and last night, a jumped sound cue leading to a jumped light cue to a jumped entrance - it's something that throws us all. It's that split second decision in the moment of the unexpected that really defines live theatre, and the people who do it.

Let me explain:
One moment in Mockingbird calls for a car sound effect, which leads into seeing "headlights" upstage, then headlights pointing onstage, which leads to the entrance of a mob, and the rest of a scene.

The sound cue came early. It was too late to take the cue back and pretend it hadn't happened, so I opted to take the headlight cue early. Our intrepid crew backstage jumped onto the headlight aparatus, swung it appropriately - and the actors awaiting their entrance saw their cue leaping forward early and took their entrance. Unfortunately one of the mob was working stage right and because of the jumped cue, she couldn't make her entrance, so the mob was one short. It was a moment of ack! for all those involved, and probably looked off, or felt off a little. But because everyone was on top of things, the audience probably didn't know any better. I've had sequences go worse, when someone makes a mistake.

That's live theatre. We come to see real people sweating real sweat, crying real tears, and sometimes making real mistakes. I've seen walls fall over and actors continue on so smoothly that the audience believed it was part of the action. I've seen actors carry on with injuries, or through botched scene changes, missing sound cues, jumped dialogue, wardrobe malfunctions and unruly audience members with a quickness of wit and skill at which the mind boggles. I think we like to see that because it links us together. We like to root for someone. We like to see someone handle an unexpected, real problem and continue gracefully on with some brilliant improvisational solution.

And why not? After all, isn't real life just one big improv, too?


LIZZIE said...

And now you are on the road. Now that is a big improv.

LIZZIE said...

Any new postings for "This Theatre Life?" We readers won't let you off the hook. What's that you say? . . . you are busy driving big trucks, loading in, doing the show, loading out, finding your motel, eating, driving . . . Huh?

Lauren said...

Hey Jess! I tagged you for a photo project! Check out my blog post for details :)

bondgal_rulz said...

Life...a big improv....thought provoking.

Interesting blog. :)