I see I have not written here about the play I am currently rehearsing. It’s another World Premiere production by local playwrights—in this case two writers I have worked with before in their first partnered script. It’s a silly science-fiction comedy—it’s actually more of an office comedy set on the bridge of a starship than speculative fiction.
Bye-the-bye, I see that it has been fourteen years since Chris Cobb suggested that a science-fiction play set on the bridge of the Enterprise would “remove some of the difficulties” of a spec-fic play. Since that time there have been a lot of very good spec-fic plays that have either found other ways out of the difficulties or reveled in the difficulties. Still, I think that the audience will come in, see the set, and know pretty much exactly what the genre conventions will be. So that’s all right.
We’re opening in a week and a half, so now is the appropriate time to be panicking about whether it is actually funny or not. And it is! So that’s all right.
One of the things I’m concerned (which, I want to say, will be all right on the night) about is a problem I’ve come across before in comedy: the difficulty of remembering what the audience doesn’t know. It’s a problem in all of theater, of course, but in most dramas, I think, it’s easier to keep in mind that the audience is (presumably) seeing it for the first time and needs to have everything properly set forth for them. In comedy, there’s a tendency to think this bit is funny and forget that the audience doesn’t know that it’s a funny bit.
Or, what is worse, there’s a temptation to top the funny bit, not just with a button but with another, bigger funnier bit. Which is obviously a Good Thing, what with funnier being, in general, better… so long as you don’t then rush the funny bit to get to the funnier bit, which is only funnier because of the earlier bit. So if the audience didn’t get the earlier bit, they don’t know why the funnier bit is funny. Which means it isn’t funny.
This particular production is even more susceptible to that problem, because most of the cast were not only in an early reading of the play some three years ago, but started rehearsals for this production at the beginning of the pandemic. In fact, I auditioned on March 15, 2020; my workplace closed the next day. We rehearsed over the internet, on and off, over the next few months before it became clear that a production would have to wait. When the theater group re-started, it was (sensibly) with small-cast shows, and this larger-scale production was postponed until, well, now.
We’ve been living with the show for two or three years, then. And as the writers are involved in the production (one of them is directing) they have been living with it for another year before that. And that means that new things are funnier to us than old things—even though to the audience, they are all new things.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,