It’s not all about theatre for me – it all IS theatre. We live through moments together, approach and receive the same data sets from wildly different angles and take away wildly different narratives and therefore different conclusions. But it’s that moment, that heartbeat where everyone in the room experiences the same moment, that’s what I live for.
That flashpoint is unparalleled by any other experience. It’s dangerous and mysterious and its possibilities are infinite. That is the point when an audience can become a mob, an idea can become inflamed into a movement, when there is communion. Everyone is in it, everyone shares that moment right when it happens. Forget thinking or even feeling the same thing. That’s not what I mean; that moment is beyond thought and feeling. It is electric and immediate and breathtaking.
I look for this moment, live for it as I said, to the degree that it just defines me. Maybe I’m addicted to it. If so I have been since I was 15 or so. And the time between hits can be years. Ever since I came upon describing this feeling as communion back in high school it’s felt like I didn’t choose to go into theatre, but it picked me. Was it when I saw Phantom of the Opera and the whole audience jumped and reacted as one? Was it when I performed a monologue and instead of polite applause at the end the class gave me a nearly audible shocked silence?
It’s just something I have to do. Something I have to have. I don’t get along very well without this practice in my life. I learned that the hard way. It’s like, theatre drove me insane and now it’s the only way I know how to cope. (Somehow that sounds even crazier.)
It’s completely fun to realize that an audience has fully committed to the ride. Sometimes its obvious like when they are laughing or gasp softly. But sometimes I realize that most people are holding their breaths just waiting for the next moment. It’s also fascinating to watch an audience hit a flashpoint where everyone has a reaction, but they are very different reactions. It’s a matter for psychology, culture, linguistics, etc that the audience members bring in, but the best theatre cuts through all of that. It may be apocryphal but I recall a story of Hamlet bring performed in English in Moscow, Russia. According to the story, while the audience largely didn’t speak English they held on in rapt attention to the schemes and emotional arcs that run through it.
It’s as basic as not wasting the time (and admission cost) the audience has given up for the performance, and as profound as a sacred meeting between hearts. The audience agrees to give me their attention and I agree to take their attention and build something out of it. The energy I give out on stage is taken by the audience and returned in their reactions. I take that return and use it to fuel the show I put on. Well, ideally. The performer has to kick butt regardless of if there is an audience and how much they’re really into what goes on onstage.
I wonder why I have to do this. Why it matters to me so much. I wonder why I am given to seeing everything this way. To borrow from Tom Stoppard, it does feel like I have the opposite approach from regular people who don’t see everything through the scope of theatre.