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One theatre lover reflects on the impact other audience members have on his experiences
Usually, I wait to criticize a show until after I've left the theatre. But I once loathed a production so much, my verbal abuse slipped out mid-performance. It was under my breath, but my words were pointed: "End this show. End it now!"
That kind of experience is why I'm glad I often attend shows on my own. I hate to expose a good friend to bad theatre or -- worse -- have a good friend enjoy bad theatre and thus distrust that person's judgment forever. Theatre is very much like life in that you take a gamble inviting someone into it.
And yet, having a theatregoing pal to celebrate or commiserate with can be fun. Last season, I made a new friend at Time and the Conways. We were both there solo and had an animated conversation about the production during intermission and after it ended. We started going to shows together, but our burgeoning relationship took a wrong turn at The Band's Visit. After I not-so-silently wept throughout the last ten minutes, he told me bluntly, "I didn't like it as much as I wanted."
For weeks I was unable to get his opinion out of my head. It felt dismissive, as if he didn't "get it." But that wasn't it. The issue was that what he got out of it wasn't the same as what I had, and I was reminded of that time I sat there grumbling sotto voce as everyone around me guffawed.
Every time you go to the theatre, you open yourself up to the reactions of everyone around you. Sometimes, your take is so radically different from the rest of the audience, you feel like you're totally on your own, which just makes you dig in your heels and love or hate a show even more. At other times, everyone seems to be in sync, and you influence each other in wonderful ways. During the raucous and joyful Oh, Hello, I found others' giggles infectious. At one point, I laughed so long after a joke that my then boyfriend put his hand over my mouth. I got caught up in the communal giddiness, and it was glorious.
So even though I'm often unaccompanied at shows, I'm never alone. Theatre can't be experienced in a vacuum. Sure, there are times when I look at my fellow theatregoers laughing or crying and wonder, are we watching the same show? The beauty is that we are -- we're just getting very different things out of it.
Do you have any stories about how audiences have impacted your theatre experiences? Tell us in the comments!
Peter Turo is a playwright, theatregoer and membership associate at Actors' Equity Association. He has too many Playbills, and you can check them out on Instagram at @rsvpete1. Follow TDF on Instagram at @officialtdf.
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