Feedback Loop

2 Comments

I keep forgetting that live theater is a feedback loop. The actors draw energy from the audience and the audience feeds energy to the actors. Opening matinee had alot of energy. A full house downstairs at the Avalon and. despite some minor hiccups with cues and set changes, the show was very good. You could tell the audience really appreciated the effort of the performers. Monday night was a dinner theater and the energy that rocketed between the audience and the actors was palpable. It was a great show. The actors has settled into the characters and were the most believable we had seen. Everybody left the theater pumped. Just the way you’d want it to be.

Avalon dinner theater

Tuesday night was another dinner theater. Sold out! But it seemed like the audience didn’t react to much of anything. Laura and I were sitting at a table toward the back and wondered if the microphones were on. Cece Davis at the tech table assured us they were. Even if you couldn’t hear all the lines, you’d have to ooh and aah over the cute kids in elf costumes.

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It seemed like the only people reacting to the play were Bannings wait staff. Even though the actors were all doing what they had done the night before,  you could feel the energy ebbing by the end of the first act. Cece said it was bad juju because of something positive Tim Weigand, the director, had said to the actors in the green room. “Theater is full of all sorts of superstitions,” she told us. I guess it’s that break a leg thing.

Cece turned the amplification up for the second act and Laura whooped and hollered from the back. The energy began to pick up and the audience got more into the play. They gave the cast a standing ovation at the end, but the performance just didn’t have the energy it had the night before. Tonight is an evening performance. It will be interesting to see what happens between the audience and the cast.

My head knows this is not a film where you get to choose the best takes and edit them into a cohesive whole; my heart wants every performance to be over the top fantastic. I know that’s what the cast wants, too.  They want to audience to love them. I’m hoping for good juju tonight and a rockin’ feedback loop.

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2 thoughts on “Feedback Loop

  1. Mala,

    I have been doing live theatre for 17 years this January 2. I can tell you, that there are no bad audiences. Audiences are not required to respond. It is our job through the text to make them respond in whatever way the text is reading at any particular point. End of discussion. Have you ever gone to the theatre and said, “I think I’ll be a bad audience member tonight”. No??? But I’ll bet you there are a million actors who have stories about tons of horrible audiences.

    Regarding Sunday, it was an opening day for almost 40 rookie actors and they put on a fine opening night show. It was fine and certainly was not horrible, in fact, people left Sunday’s show thanking us for doing it. Monday we hit just right. They were confident and the 2 leads were instructed specifically to “forget their lines”. They trusted that advice, implemented it and it worked. Ask them about it. It changed the whole dynamic of the show. On Tuesday there was a little too much relaxation and confidence, like, “we got it”. But also on Tuesday night the crowd somehow felt they could join in (a’la The Rocky Horror picture show). We are responsible for putting on the show. At no time EVER are they expected to “cheer us on”. I caught myself for the last 30 minutes of the show saying, “what is happening out there?”. “Why are people applauding when a person simply speaks a line?” In 17 years I had never experienced this.

    The success of Monday nights show had a direct affect on Tuesday nights show. After hitting that high mark on Monday, several factors come in to play which I won’t discuss here, but the biggest was the fact that the actors were trying to recreate exactly what they did on Monday which is theoretically and practically impossible. What happened was that they came out and started pouncing on the lines that went perfectly on Monday night. When you “pounce” on a line to try to get it, to try to create a desired affect, you create abnormal beats in your script which are not written in. The laughter or sadness is in the line, just say it, an actor doesn’t have to say it right if the intent is already in the line. One or two of these abnormal beats is not a big deal but when you have 10, 20 or 30 of these it ends up changing the cadence of your script cumulatively.

    It also affected the play immediately at the opening when we lost the screen, however the next group of actors were acting so professionally that they were able to pick the rhythm back up and get things going again and they should be praised for that. I have seen a lot of plays where actors were not able to get it back. Many.

    The bottom line is, is that we were not as good as we were on Monday, plain and simple. The fact that you felt you had to turn the volume up should be proof enough for that. We don’t change volume settings night to night. Ever. Add in the the awkward beats of clapping when anyone says a line and the awkward beats of actors pouncing on lines and you get a stacatto style performance that happens occasionally with 40 or so novice actors. Yesterdays speech was “We were good on Sunday, fabulous on Monday and good again on Tuesday.” And they all understood, they all agreed. They are turning into actors now…all of them. They know what went wrong. And then the question ended with, “What do you want to be on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday?” I think you have seen there answer the last two nights. Bravo to them. Enjoy!!

    • I understand that shows are variable from performance to performance, but I do think there is an interactive feedback loop between the performers and the audience and we could see the difference at every show. It certainly would have helped if we could have done a complete run through of the show before opening day, but it all went so much better than I might have expected. So many people have commented to me about how much they loved the show and were still thinking about it days later. We heard lots of laughter and saw tears — a tribute to what the actors created on the Avalon stage.

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