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Malvolio Production Diary: Audiences

Audiences, man. Y’all do know we judge you, right? We start pronouncing our opinions before the show even begins. Actually, before you get there at all, we’ll mention that it’s Saturday and should be a lively crowd, or that the second weekend’s houses are less enthusiastic, or that we hate matinees and matinee audiences with a passion. There will be mild disagreement on whether to expect the worst this particular night, before we all reach agreement that audiences are bastards and cannot be trusted. Some of us pester the house manager or ASM for numbers, which they are mostly reluctant to give. Rumours spread of a crowd that is unusually packed with Phylisses (Phylii?) or that is already tipsy and boisterous. Some of us sneak up (or over or down) to the wings to listen as y’all mill around and settle; some sets have peekholes to peer through, either inadvertently left or deliberately placed.

Once the show starts, of course, we immediately judge whether y’all are with us, whether y’all are a tough crowd, whether y’all are dead. We judge from the stage, we judge from the wings, we judge from dressing rooms, listening to the monitors that barely pick up audience sounds anyway. We judge passionately, viciously and inaccurately. We commiserate about lousy audiences, we exult in the great ones. We listen for coughs, mobile phones and the rattling of food wrappers. We joke about it. We reminisce about the worst audiences we have faced, and the best. We judge.

Friday’s house was quite good, enthusiastic but not rowdy. The Saturday night house was very quiet in the first half, but perked up after the interval (on such evenings we joke that the wine sales must have been particularly good). I felt I never found their rhythm; it’s harder when you can’t hear them, of course. I didn’t get an exit round after the letter scene on Saturday, and didn’t really expect to, although I didn’t think I had done it badly, or indeed significantly differently than previous nights. At the end many of them stood up to applaud, probably more of them standing than any other performance so far. Not that we count. It was not an unsatisfying night. I was sure tired when it was over, though.

Sunday matinee… the Saturday show was quiet in the first half; the audience for the Sunday matinee was silent. It was terrible. So much more work when the audience have decided not to laugh out loud. It was not (we told each other backstage) that they weren’t paying attention, but that they had suppressed their laughter in the first scenes and now were in the habit of silence. I drew an exit round, but it was hard work; in the wing, I mimed pulling the applause out of the audience with a rope, to the knowing grimaces of my castmates. During the interval, we joked about the silence, and matinee audiences.

Then they came back for the second half a boisterous crowd. I got an actual entrance round when I appeared in my yellow stockings, the second scene after the interval. After, as I was making up for the Prison Scene, I expressed my appreciation that the house manager had buried the first half audience and hired a new one. Of course, that’s my last scene where I get laughs; there are occasional laughs during the Prison Scene but they are Feste’s, not mine, and my part of the final scene when I vow revenge is judged by its silence, not its noise. Still, an excellent audience, if perplexingly different from before to after.

Here’s an odd moment, by the way, might be of interest: toward the end of my little verse piece in the fifth act, I recap the bit: [you] Bade me come smiling and cross-gartered to you, To put on yellow stockings, and to frown upon Sir Toby and the lighter people. Late in the rehearsal process, we added a bit: Sebastian (who has not previously met Malvolio) lets out a whispered (but audible) ew when I mention the yellow stockings. I don’t know if there’s a physical bit involved, if Olivia responds with a grimace or whatever, but it’s a funny moment. I’m not playing Malvolio for laughs at this point, remember, but the rest of the cast are still their broad selves, which can be awkward for me as an actor, feeling out of sync. At any rate, the ew is stuck in the middle of my sentence, which of course means I have to pause for it. But I don’t just have to pause for the ew, I have to pause for the laugh that follows it, which, it turns out, is a beat behind. That is, there’s the ew, then a silent beat, and then a laugh. If I start talking during the silent beat, I kill the laugh. If I wait and there isn’t a laugh, it’s awkward and terrible. So far, there has been a laugh (at least a little one) each time, so that’s all right.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Huh, who's Phyllis?


I noticed the silence in the first half on Sunday! It was weird; I wasn't as familiar with where the jokes were, so I didn't personally laugh at anything, and found myself thinking at the end of the show "wow, the second half was *way* funnier than the first half". I don't know if that was anything but the audience's fault -- it might well not have been. But, as someone in the audience, I just wanted to mention that I was at least dimly aware of it too. :^)


Phyllis is that kindly elderly woman who comes to all sorts of cultural events and spends much of them explaining what just happened to her husband in a whisper that can be heard for miles around. Her husband is also Phyllis.

Local cultural institutions exist only because the Phyllii purchase tickets; we all love all the Phyllisses and wish there were more of them, only on some other night. They are lovely people and terrible audiences.

Thanks,
-V.


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