Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Audience Has a Job

May, 2009: Performance Day

"Good morning and welcome to the very first performance of 'Twelfth Night' by The Shakespeare Club," I intoned to the small-fry audience gathered in our school auditorium. "This is actually called an 'invited dress rehearsal' and you, as the audience, have a responsibility here."

Teachers patrolled the aisles, pointed stern fingers and settled the excited group.

"These actors have rehearsed and know what to do. The boys at the back of the auditorium, taking care of lights and sound, know what to do. And now I'm going to give you a job."

The auditorium was full, and because I addressed them through a microphone, they paid attention.

"This is a funny play, so it is way-okay to laugh. It is not okay to walk around, or to call out to the actors and distract them. It is not okay to talk during the performance. Your job is to follow the story, and if you listen very carefully, the first thing you might hear is the ocean."

With that I gave a nod to Lyndon to shut off the house lights. I left the stage and we were blanketed in blackness. The sound of ocean waves and seagull calls rose around us. Music from James Horner's "Titanic" score soared as blue and green lights flooded the stage. The ocean makers billowed silky fabric and glittery fishes danced above the waves.

Our discount Cirque du Soleil opening had the audience rapt and we were into the first of our four performances that day in May.

Belinda shone as our narrator. She kept the story going and added her personal vocal flourishes as only a gifted actor knows to do.

Geoffrey, as Sir Toby Belch, had decided a "viol-de-gamboys" was a guitar-like instrument. When he described his friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, as a proficient musician, Geoffrey played an air-guitar and swung his hips like a pint-sized Elvis. The audience went crazy. The kids screamed and Geoffrey could not resist giving just a little hip wiggle every time he wanted to set them off. Geoffrey, an actor instantly addicted, had transformed into a professional milker.

Luis matched Geoffrey's comedy bit for bit. When forced into a swordfight, a terrified Luis rattled his weapon, cowered and covered his eyes. Again, the audience roared and screeched in approval.

Stars, born at 10:30 that morning, twinkled and carried an audience in the palms of their small hands. These boys, who struggle every day with math, spelling and reading, were at the top of their form as comic actors.

I sat out front, breathed deep, satisfied breaths, and took notes to give them after the performance.

After the cast took their bows, the apron of the stage was a mob scene of tiny kids reaching up to touch Luis' and Geoffrey's outstretched hands. Rock stars.

When they hustled off to lunch they were again mobbed on campus.

Self-esteem was delivered in truckloads and they still had three performances to go.

I learned how to be an actor and hoe to connect to my character. I also learned how to memerized my lines.

It felt good when they laughed. I knew I wasn't loud enough. I will always remember the fun I had in the Shakespeare club.

Playing the part was cool because I learned not to dress up as a boy.
Polly, 5th grade

ocean photo from Flickr user philipbouchard


  1. Yay! I knew the kids would rock! I eagerly await a post about your celebratory margarita (or reward of choice)!

  2. Gulp...delish! That's all I can say about that.


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