Creative Economy

Patrick White on the substance of attendance

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Patrick White on the substance of attendance

We were walking up 10th Avenue last weekend after having caught the matinee of The True by Sharr White, the play that features the relationship between Mayor Corning and Polly Noonan, when my sister questioned me about the audience’s response.

We found the play a lot funnier than we expected and both of us were barking out laughs from facing balconies. I went for the partial view seats separating our party of four and saved 65%. The woman sitting next to me stiffened every time I laughed uproariously. I glanced at her at one point and she seemed more surprised by my reaction than annoyed by it.

My sister had asked if the performers could hear that or make note of it. I assured her that Edie Falco was going to have a salad between shows and remark on that woman with the great laugh sitting in the house right balcony.

We are both lucky that we have distinctive, explosive shouts of a laugh and all my students and everyone I’ve done a show with can tell I’m in the house minutes after the show begins. I love that about my laugh and I love hearing friend’s distinctive laughter when I’m in shows. It’s like a hug onstage, a pat on the back, a warm embrace, an atta-boy! Laughter is also the quickest and deepest bond you can create with the audience. If you can win the audience with a laugh, they will follow you anywhere. So never doubt that you are needed in the theater.

How else is your attendance a force necessary to the creation of art? Well, without an audience, a performance is just a rehearsal. All the rehearsals, the show selection, the planning, the building, the promotion is for naught if nobody shows up. Sometimes theater is that much more powerful when the audience is small.

I remember the incredibly hard work preparing Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the performance facing an audience of seven. It did not make me question my choice of occupation but inspired me to be one of the seven for someone else.

I want to be in that tiny audience and laugh loudly letting them know it was all worthwhile. In acting school we were always taught that you only needed to connect with one person. Just one. If someone, anyone, just one person recognized the truth of what you are portraying, you are successful. The rest is just ego.

You can define what we see and how far our art can reach. Ask Philip Morris if we would be getting Hamilton if Capital Region audiences were not such a force to be reckoned with. What we choose to attend and support makes a statement about ourselves and what we believe in.

You can choose to be collaborative, inclusive and supportive. There are over 70 organizations including 7 colleges producing theater in the Capital Region and new ones forming every season.

There are three whose focus is creating opportunities for actors of color. You can open yourself up to new experiences and foreign expressions that will expand your mind and make you stronger by attending Capital Region premieres and telling the theater you chose them because you wanted to see something new.

You only get to vote once a year but you can attend live theater in the Capital Region nearly every night of the week. I know.

Last year we saw 240 productions and 140 of them were in the Capital Region. Since I’ve started counting the number of shows I see a year there is marked change, growth and forward progression. Keep hope alive.

Patrick White is a Capital Region actor/director/teacher. white.patrick1963@gmail.com

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