Despite the fact that I have done plenty of shows before, it always shocks me how much the audience’s reaction can inform my performance over the course of a run. For some reason, there are parts of a show that can’t be fully appreciated if you have seen it or done it time and again. A new set of eyes (or 500) can bring insight completely different from what those who know the show best expect.
The most obvious way this manifests itself is with “laugh lines”. Without fail, there are always lines in a show that no one finds funny in rehearsal but gets big laughs from the audience. For me, the most surprising instance of this was the laugh that came every night from “the thoughtful butcher”. Personally, I don’t see how this line is funny. Is it ironic that a butcher would be thoughtful? I don’t know. I don’t even think it would be the worst title for a movie I ever heard. But, if my objective in the scene is to flirt with Mother, than funnier is better, and I play into it.
The more surprising instances of unexpected audience reactions are when people laugh when they really, really shouldn’t. One night late in the run, several people laughed at my line “I am not you people”. The only reasoning I could think of for this (I play that line pretty angry and don’t exactly invite laughs) is that they connected this line with one from the movie Tropic Thunder (“what do you mean, you people”). A little immature and inappropriate, but it is important not to get distracted by it.
My favorite kind of audience reaction is that which motivates you as a performer. The first night, after gliding, it was clear that underscoring following the song made the audience hesitant to applaud. This sort of bummed me out, as it was one of my biggest moments of the show. However, every performance thereafter, before I entered for the scene before gliding, I would commit to focusing on my acting partners, and let the emotion flow through the song so much that the audience would plow right through the underscoring with applause. It didn’t happen every night, but when it did, it let me knew that I was on the right track that night.
Going in front of an audience always opens my eyes to how a show can improve. Something occurs to me, and I think “I really wish I had known about this two weeks ago”, and I always end up wishing there had been more rehearsal. At this point I remind myself, it’s performing for someone that makes a show improve in laps and bounds during a run. Finally communicating with an audience makes me self conscious and nit picky, yes, but it is also what brings a show to life.