Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get super enthusiastic about things.
This week, Stages editor Mark Blankenship geeks out (via Gchat) with Sarah D. Bunting, East Coast Editor at Previously.TV.
Why do we want to see certain shows more than once?
So Sarah... a few days ago, you made a passing comment about actors that I found really intriguing. Not to put you on the spot, but would you mind flawlessly recreating that thought as though it's just occurring to you now?
Sarah D. Bunting:
No problem whatsoever, Mark! My esteemed spouse was recently in a play, and after opening night, we were discussing the feel of the house on opening night and what it's like for the company the SECOND night of a production. (In my experience, everyone has an adrenaline dip, and you have the highest incidence of mistakes and missed cues.) We talked about how sometimes a small house with a loud laugher is better than a full house that isn't sure they're "with" the play. I'm fascinated by that sort of thing, so I was wishing that we had a literary sub-genre of diaries kept by members of long-running shows, tracking the changes in the house, in the performances, in how outside events/weather seemed to affect the mood of a performance, etc.
I was thinking in particular of Linda Emond, who played Linda Loman in the recent Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman
with Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Oh, interesting! What made you think of her as a potential "performance diarist?"
It's her performance that stuck with me from that production. She and Finn Wittrock
as Happy both brought something new and riveting to the conceptions of the characters. Plus, Emond is a Law & Order
day player of long standing and has been around, so I think she'd have the vocabulary for the project, as well as the experience.
I love this idea. It's not unlike the daily stage manager's report, but filtered through the experience of someone who's on stage. This sort of thing really fascinates me... the idea of being with a show for weeks and weeks or even years and years.
Yes. And the way data would reveal themselves after a certain number of months. And actors are very attuned to this kind of thing.
I know, for instance, that in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
, there's now an entire spit-take scene
that didn't exist when the show opened. It developed slowly over time.
My husband noticed a difference after two performances of his play, just because the curtain moved from 7 to 9. Several years ago, my own play had to be revised because an actor was stuck in traffic. We left the change in; it worked better.
Haha! Really? Was she late for a rehearsal or a performance?
Performance! She was stuck on a bus thanks to an accident in the Lincoln Tunnel. We flipped her monologue with someone else's and it seemed to flow better, so we left it.
That's incredible. And that story speaks to something larger about this idea. What we're getting at, I think, is something about how alluring the "liveness" of theatre can be. How it's never going to be the same, even when the script is frozen.
Yes! My husband's fake sneeze got a little too real for the front row the other night, and one guy said, audibly, "Live theatre!"
He actually sneezed on the guy?
There was a blob.
And yet: unique! It won't happen again, because now Dan will be sure not to hit the civilians when he sneezes.
Right! The show has adapted. He has adapted. By contrast, I watched Kill Bill Vol. 1
on Netflix this weekend. It was the fourth time I've seen that movie (at least), and it was just as good as I remembered, but it was exactly the same. Which I know is an obvious thing to say, but my point is that I've had occasion to see the same show twice in one week, and it has felt different.
And I feel like what we're circling around is that... yearning, perhaps... that yearning
to experience the totality of a play's life. To somehow be present for every iteration. Actors can do that, and it would be amazing to hear detailed reports from them.
Because everyone involved is telling a story, at root. And how that story changes each night or is received differently---it's Wednesday; my husband has laryngitis---is itself part of the story.
Is it strange that this is making me sad?
Sad, or wistful?
Wistful. For instance… a few years ago, I saw the musical Passing Strange
three times, and every time, there was this number called "Keys" that blew my chest open.
But every time, it was also slightly different. And as someone who will not go to bed without finishing a chapter of a book or the last scene of a film, I feel wistful when I consider all the performances of "Keys" I DIDN'T experience.
Huh… Now I feel like I partially understand why people saw Rent
500 times. Because you want the complete experience of the thing you love. Or at least, as complete as you can get.
Anything can and will happen. And the show you see is the only time you'll see that show, with that audience, wearing those shoes, etc., and things about it will stay with you in that way. For instance, seeing The Year of Magical Thinking
with my mother.
Both of us wanting it to be truly great, and both of us thinking it was kind of a misfire. So that play really took off for us at cocktails afterwards when one of us finally said, "That...wasn't my favorite thing?"
Right. And that's part of the story now. Even if that show didn't totally work for you, it's still embedded in your life, which means it still had an effect. For me... I clearly remember seeing the Al Pacino/Lily Rabe version of Merchant of Venice
at Shakespeare in the Park.
I am so jealous of that. I would like Lily Rabe to just...be at my house, making things interesting with her perfect chin.
And maybe playing a crazy nun half the time, because I'm still not over that season of American Horror Story
. But anyway… Merchant
. It was threatening to rain all night, and finally, the first drops fell when Lily Rabe, as Portia, said the line about the quality of mercy dropping like the gentle rain from heaven. It was like the sky itself had been waiting to rain on cue. The entire audience cheered. Lily Rabe broke for a second and laughed. Because how could you not be amazed in that moment? And I was both delighted to be there and wistful to consider that I couldn't see how it would play out the next night, in different weather.
She's wonderful. I am happy that existed. "Live theatre!"
Now it’s your turn! Which shows have you seen more than once and why? Geek out with us in the comments!
Lily Rabe photo by Joan Marcus.