audience

Courtesy

I love theatre.

I love the moment when the curtain goes up and a hush goes over the room. I love being transported to another place, escaping my fears and anxieties for a few hours. I love sharing a moment of catharsis with several hundred strangers whom I may never share a moment with ever again.

I love the work that goes into a show - the lighting and scenery and sound and choreography. I love the marquee and the proscenium and the playbill. I love my ticket stubs, all neatly filed away in a box of keepsakes.

I absolutely love theatre.

To me, the theatre is a sacred place. The world sucks a lot of the time but theatre can help us forget about that, if only for a moment. A beautiful performance can transcend barriers and cultural divides. Theatre brings us all together.

I dress up when I go to the theatre. Usually a suit and tie. I block out the night of the show on my calendar and count down the days to the big event. 

I make it my mission to see as much live theatre as possible. I drive to neighboring cities or extend my trips when possible to catch a performance. I even flew to Europe once just to see a show. I don’t want to grow old regretting that I never saw such-and-such actor or singer or comedian or show in person. So I keep buying tickets and I keep going because the theatre is a big freaking deal.

Or at least that’s how it used to be. But lately, I’ve noticed a different trend.

I saw Hamilton last week. Yes, THAT Hamilton. And yes, it was as magical and extraordinary and moving and enchanting as everyone says. It was INCREDIBLE.

I paid $500 a ticket to attend, too. I put a bunch of money aside just for those tickets and turned down work just so I could stay in Chicago to see it. I waited two freaking years to see that show and I freaking LOVED it.

But, there was a young lady next to me who kept looking at her phone and smartwatch during the show. Every few minutes she’d sneak a glance at her phone and I’d notice the glow out of the corner of my eye. It’s really hard to get transported back to 1776 when someone next to you is deciding between emojis.

Why would you pay over $500 for a ticket, only to spend half of the time on your phone?

Are the actors not trying hard enough for you? Is the award-winning score not good enough for you? Are the rave reviews and Tony Awards not enough? Were you not moved by the relevancy of the subject matter and how it connects to our current political climate? Were you not entranced by the use of modern sounds to tell the story of the American Revolution?

What will it take to get you to put your phone down for a couple hours? What will it take for you to be here - in this moment - living for the now?

Nearly every time I see a show someone in the audience ends up being disrespectful. I’m tired of late arrivals and loud talking and people on their phones and people dressing down. I’m tired of other people ruining my experience at the theatre. If nothing else, shut up and let everyone else have a good time.

Look, I’m as connected as they come. In my office I have an iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and iMac all next to my windows. I spend all day working online so I can spend my evenings doing something I love.

And what I love most is to be in the theatre, either onstage or off. So when I’m there I turn off my smartwatch and silence my phone because I’m there to get lost for a while. I’m there to be part of a one-of-a-kind experience that will never happen the same way again.

I love everything about the theatre. Please don’t ruin that for me.

The Right Person

I spend most of my show reading people. Not minds - people.

I’m constantly scanning the audience for the next volunteer. I need a person who is cooperative and seems friendly. They need to be helpful and able to follow instructions. It helps if they’re sober, too.

See, my show is not about me. It’s about you, the audience. I think of you as my cast, your thoughts as my props, and your mind as my stage. So I need to find the best volunteers to become supporting players in this production.

I don’t stop reading someone when they come onstage either. If anything, I’m watching them even more closely.

Are they uncomfortable? Or nervous? 

Am I respecting their boundaries?

Are they able to take a joke? Or did I just cross a line?

I’m always weighing those questions and catering my performance to their subconscious, subtle demands.

Then, I watch for the ultimate cue: Are they ready?

Are they ready for the moment? Have I taken them to a place where they are fully prepared to react?

Will they be amazed?

Then, and only then, will they be ready for the moment of wonder. These things take time, and it all comes down to being a good judge of people.

When it comes to the show, I can be a bit of a control freak. I’ll give you an example: 

During my tour this summer I hid somewhere in the theatre so I could watch people while they entered the room. In Florida, I paper clipped the curtains at an angle so I could peek thru a slit. In Ontario, I hid in the shadows to get a view of people as they took their seats. In San Diego, I widened a pre-existing hole in the drywall. I wanted to get an idea of what kind of audience I was working with before the show even began. 

There’s a point in my show where I try to find one of the smartest men in the room to participate. I want an engineer or architect, someone who is good with numbers and a bit cynical of the proceedings. It’s not supposed to be a challenge. It’s because I want the audience to witness a transformation.

The penultimate show of The Mystery Tour was also the best show of the entire tour. It was perfectly paced and the audience was with me every step of the way. One of the best parts was when I called on a man for the “transformative moment”.

I’d been watching this guy the whole show. He was clearly very smart and also extremely skeptical of what I was doing. It wasn’t a rude skepticism. It was a “I’ll-only-buy-it-if-it-happens-to-me” kind of vibe.

“What do you do for a living, sir?” I asked.

“I work in IT,” he replied.

I smiled to myself. After hundreds of shows, year after year, you just know these things.

The man took a seat onstage and I started to break down his barriers. My script is full of self-deprecating jokes and reassuring gestures to make sure my volunteer knows he is an equal and not an adversary.

Several minutes passed and we’d reached the point of no return: the moment of wonder. In rapid succession his guard dropped at roughly the same rate as his jaw. Then, he just started laughing to himself.

It was incredible. The audience had seen a jaded man walk onstage and visibly transform in front of their very eyes. It had all happened in under five minutes.

“Give him a big round of applause!” I said, shaking his hand as I led him back to his seat.

Under the cover of the applause he looked up at me and said “That was fucking insane.”

I wish I could put that quote on my website. In a way, I guess I am.

My title may be “Mind Reader” but the truth is, it really comes down to reading people. I’m not here to convince you of something supernatural or get you to buy into a new belief system. I’m just here to show you that maybe there’s something more to this than what you think. Maybe the world is just a little bit bigger or more mysterious than you thought it was before the curtain went up.

To do that I need the right person. And if you’re lucky, it might be you.