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Malvolio Production Diary: Three down, six to go

Well, and three performances down, six to go. I feel as if I should have something profound or even entertaining to say about the experience, having expended some twenty thousand words on the preparation. Not that much of that was profound or entertaining. Still, there’s all the lead-up, and now we’ve got an audience, and what do I say about it?

It was great.

This group performs in a large hall—Hunh, I haven’t talked at all about the physical location of the thing. OK, here we go: it’s a historic meeting hall (next year will be its sesquicentennial) that was built to be the cultural center for the mill town. Do y’all know about these towns where the mill owners ruled with a kind of noblesse, building not only worker housing but infrastructure, churches, parks, libraries, schools and theaters? It was absolutely terrific for the workers, particularly the ones who were white, able-bodied and of the approved Christian sect, and had no aspirations for their children other than comfort, nutrition and basic literacy. At any rate, it’s a gorgeous old building with a huge multi-purpose hall, meaning they have to put chairs in for theater performances and concerts and take ’em out again when the rent the place for weddings and banquets. It seats, oh, three hundred if you pack the place to fire-marshall capacity; they usually set up around two hundred chairs. A proscenium at one end—I don’t know the measurements of the stage, but I would describe it as biggish and deepish. Lots of lovely fly space above, but not much in the way of electricals. The wings are smallish but they exist, with enough space to walk through. Our set uses the cyc (in terms of condition, it’s not the best or the worst I’ve seen) and there’s a narrow pass-through behind it with a narrow door that leads to a narrow spiral stair that goes down to a basement level with a dressing room, a green room and a largish meeting room (that is used to sell snacks and beverages during intermission. There’s only the one dressing room (I don’t think I’ve been in a community theater space that has more than one) and it’s big enough for the fifteen of us, if a little noisy. There is (thank goodness) a bathroom for the cast, separate from the one that the audience uses. All in all, a nice space.

The problem with a big hall, of course, is that it feels empty even when there are a lot of people in it. Forty people in a hall that seats sixty will fill the place and allow for laughter and applause; forty people in a hall that seats three hundred will feel all the empty chairs and maintain silence. Audiences, huh? Fortunately, the three shows each sold over a hundred tickets, and I think we had more than 150 at the Sunday matinee. On the other hand, the house was never more than three-quarters full. So there’s that. Still, the audiences appeared to enjoy it. Laughed in the right places, didn’t laugh in the wrong ones. I don’t think there are a lot of wrong places to laugh in Twelfth Night, come to think of it. There was applause at the end, and applause at the intermission break, and applause occasionally at the end of scenes or a character’s exit.

Have I ever written here about exit rounds? I must have done. It’s a round of applause on an actor’s exit, particularly noticeable of course when the scene isn’t over. It’s an old-fashioned thing; I believe it used to be almost obligatory (enforced by a paid claque, of course, which in the amateur theater must be replaced by the actor’s spouse or mother) for the star role. We have designed the end of the Letter Scene to almost force the audience to an exit round. There’s the extended smile bit (which I am milking just a little bit more every performance, trying not to cross the line and exhaust the audience’s good will) and then I shout I will do everything thou wilt have me! and turn up, bounding onto the platform and then (bracing myself on the conveniently situated bench) leaping and clicking my heels before exiting. I suppose we could light a neon APPLAUSE sign at that point, but it would be superfluous; the audience know what they are supposed to do. They are probably surprised to discover that the scene isn’t over, and in fact it’s terribly unfair to the Belch Gang who have a dozen lines, mostly rehashing what we’ve heard. Still and all, it’s a marvelous feeling to exit to a round of applause.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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