They were sitting directly in my field of vision on the other side of the packed, tiny, black-box theater. I leaned over to my stage manager and whispered, “Those two will not be back after intermission.” It was obvious they were leaving, the only question was when. They looked like they might actually get up during the play itself and storm out, rude under any circumstances but especially so in so intimate a setting as the Grandon Studio. Lance just cocked his head at me and continued following along in his script, activating the light cues and prompting me when I needed to initiate a sound effect. I continued to watch the audience and feel the audience’s unpleasant vibe to what I considered a hilarious show.
It hadn’t started out this way an hour and a half earlier.
“Tyne Daly is in the audience and she’s dressed like a Christmas tree,” I said to Amy and Duane as I entered the green room. I was doing my first stint as crew for TCR’s production of David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries” and “Season’s Greetings.”
“Who?” Zach asked.
“Tyne Daly? Actress? She was in ‘Cagney and Lacey’ back in the eighties? Actually this woman looks like she’s about my age, old enough to be my big sister, probably in her sixties. Anyway, house is open and she’s in the house.” Zach was one of two directors for the show which featured two separate casts for the two one act, one man plays. He was young enough to have missed both Cagney and Lacey when they were running around arresting bad guys on TV.
“Thank you, house” chorused Duane and Amy.
I had first met Amy when she crewed for a show I did at TCR back in 2010. Sadly, she hadn’t really registered on my RADAR then. She is a dynamite lady in every sense of the word and I am fortunate that I had further opportunities to become her friend. It would have been a huge loss not to have her in my life.
I was ready to get started on opening night and it was nice sitting with two cast members who were friends, massaging Amy’s neck and shoulders and chatting about our personal lives as we waited for the clock to tick down. My hands got tired from massaging her so I excused myself and headed back out to the control booth.
I’ve never worked tech before. I have a medical condition, it’s called attentionwhoremaximus and it precludes me from spending much time out of the limelight. I enjoy acting for many reason but one of them is a need to have people watch me and be appreciative. The tech booth is not my natural habitat but all the real tech folks were busy putting on “Shrek” in the big, elaborate production upstairs so poor Lance was stuck trying to show an actor how to act like crew. I was trying but technical savvy is not my long suit!
As tech crew I’m supposed to learn how to operate the light board and sound board. As these have already been programed all we really have to do is push a button to go to the next setting for lights or to initiate a sound effect. All the real work, setting the lights, finding the sound effects- the music, the prerecorded voice overs- have all been done by people who have skills. My job is to push a button so we advance from one illumination effect to the next or a 13 second snippet of a song that complements the action. Extremely easy in theory a bit more complicated in action.
The board is easy but those darned actors can be problematic! Santaland and Season’s Greetings are one man shows. It is easy to get befuddled when spouting a one hour monologue and when that happens, when an actor skips a scene or goes out of order simply pushing the next button won’t do. We can’t have the car crash sound effect take place during the submarine scene- that doesn’t work very well- so when the show goes a little off the rail Lance has to reset the computer programs and figure out where this particular show is going. I do what I can to help but so far I have not received words of praise for my technical abilities.
I do help with set changes though. I jump right in and move the crap out of furniture! Strong back, weak mind, that’s my motto!
One of the things that happens before the lights go down and the show starts is that I walk into the green-room, the place where the actors hang out, and tell them how long before show time. The theater doors open a half hour before show-time and the count down goes, “House is open, twenty minutes, ten minutes, five, places,” or minor derivations there of. In and out, deliver the message and get back to work.
Or sit and chat with my friends for a few minutes as the case may be.
At 7:25 I pop my head in the green-room and say, “Places,” before climbing back up to the tech booth. Lance brings the lights down to half, Zach gives his pre-show speech, we have an illumination blackout, music plays, the lights come up on stage and the magic begins.
Duane is hilarious. His is a deadpan delivery interspersed with short, antic quips. The material is sarcastic, caustic and offensive- perfect for a Christmas show! I love Santaland Diaries and since I have worked retail since 1977 the jokes about an out-of-work slacker who decides to become a Macy’s elf during the holiday crunch hit home beautifully. I’ve never been an elf, but I’ve lived in the world Sedaris puts little Crumpet in!
Did I mention hilarious? I laugh every time I see this show and the small preview audiences laughed uproariously. You know the old saw, “What is the sound of one man clapping?” Whatever the answer to that little Zen Koan riddle I can tell you it differs wildly from the sound of one man laughing. Packed house, bit less than one hundred people in the audience and there’s pretty much one guy laughing heartily. I felt terrible for Duane.
Duane’s delivery was spot on. We didn’t have to change the light or sound cues because Santaland Diaries marched right along with great perverted humor and timing. The audience was so quiet I started to do something I’ve never really done before; I watched them.
When I go to plays I am either an audience member and am watching the show or else I’m in the show and am concentrating on my fellow actors. Having seen this show rehearse half a dozen times I started watching the audience, a new experience for me.
It seemed as though most were perplexed by the humor. It is not sweet fluff. Menstrual cycle blood jokes, retard, marijuana, a litany of truly funny vignettes delivered wonderfully keep spilling out of Duane’s mouth to little effect. Then I saw Tyn Daly and her date from across the stage. They were not sitting semi-comatose befuddled and bewildered, they were squirming in their seats.
As the show progressed and the couple telegraphed their displeasure more frequently, as they folded their arms and pursed their lips in displeasure I wondered if they had read the disclaimer stating that the show was not for children and had an R rating. This would probably have served as a good clue that what they were in for was a bit twisted and did not feature Tiny Tim nor Frosty the Snowman.
They squirmed, the audience sat there and I was sad.
It’s funny that the audience affected me more as crew than as actor. I love it when an audience shows appreciation but when I’m on stage performing I am in my own little world and mostly unaware of what all those faces in the dark place behind the bright lights are doing. I’m not oblivious, just concentrating on something else. About the only time I worry about the audience when performing is during a comedy when I have to remember to pause and wait for the laughter to die down before delivering the next line. Not much of a problem on opening night of Santaland.
Crumpet has his penultimate moment where he has an epiphany and becomes both a better elf and better man, which leads to his final moment where he’s a smart ass all over again. Duane is funny but the audience has tepid applause.
At intermission Lance and I set the stage for the next show. I drop into the green-room to commiserate with my old friend and pop back in the booth. We flash the lights in preparation of Season’s Greetings and I look over to where Tyn Daly was sitting. Two empty seats. It’s a shame Santa no longer traffics in coal, maybe she could have used some to warm her heart because we sure didn’t.
Merry Christmas everybody.