It’s Sunday morning and I’ve procrastinated writing this blog post, which is ‘due’ before rehearsal this afternoon. (That marketing director, Tyler…what a tyrant!) And I’ve got some time this morning anyway. We’ve moved into the space at Plays & Players, marking our transition from daytime writing and rehearsals in the 1812 Productions space down in South Philly to ‘tech’ on the stage where we’ll perform. That transition also means that my only early morning wakeups will now be when my flat-faced (read: very handsome) dog, Peter, snores directly in my ear.
For any play, this is the time when there’s a tentative grasp on what the show is: we think we know what it is and can see the both the general shape of things and the show’s potential. In tech, we break it all down and add the costumes, lights, sound, video projection, etc. (Sean, get to the good stuff— you’re not teaching “Intro To Theatre,” here. Okay, Sean, fair point.) So really, there’s a feeling with any show that we don’t know what we have until there’s an audience, but that’s especially true for This Is The Week That Is.
We go into previews with a general idea of the show’s shape. We have jokes and bits that have been making us cry-laugh for the past two weeks, but then we face the truest of litmus tests: you, the audience. There are things that we have fallen in love with in rehearsals. And when they sputter out in a couple of previews, they’re gone. Our fearless leader, Jen Childs, has set a precedent to have audience talkbacks after This Is The Week previews. Two years ago, when I joined the show, I have to admit I was not a fan of this. ‘The show is precious! Our ideas are precious! They need care and incubating and nurturing don’t they?!’ You’re not wrong, defensive-Sean-from-two-years-ago. But it’s not about you. The show is larger than any one performer/ writer’s contribution. There’s something else at work here, when we hear from the audience and take their input. And sometimes that eye toward the show as a whole, toward keeping the show in direct dialogue with the audience, makes us ‘kill our darlings’— that’s theatre-speak for cutting some of our favorite parts. (R.I.P. the Kim Jong-un ‘Happy Birthday, Communism’ sketch.) We change to keep the show close to the audience. We want you with us.
I’ve been an audience member a lot lately. (A coded way of saying I haven’t been working on any plays. But hey, it’s nice to check out the happy hour scene.) On occasion, I have been left wanting by that experience. It’s not always because my actor-ego thinks that I should be up on stage doing the job for them (okay, sometimes. Yes, that’s icky, but just being honest,) I’ve been frustrated because I’m looking for art and theatre that have space for me and the rest of the audience to bring ourselves to it. I want theatre that has space for my anxiety, for me to feel messy, for me to feel broken, for me to recognize the places where I’ve been wrong and need to work to get better, for me to be choked by anger and unsure of how to put it into words. And hey, you know what I don’t need any more of these days? Spaces where I feel alienated, isolated and disconnected. I’m drawn to theatre because I love and am endlessly fascinated by human beings. I want to get close to certain essential truths of humanity that get lost in the disorienting swirl of the mundane.
I realize that I’m hopping up onto this soapbox while talking about a show where we dress up in silly silly costumes and sing and dance to the cheesiest of 80’s songs (I won’t tell you which one. You’re just going to have to come see.) But the silliest and wackiest stuff we do is a way to meet the absolute absurdity of the moment and respond to it. We do that because it feels revolutionary to have a little fun these days. We do that so we can follow it with something that hits us all in a little more vulnerable place. We’re not doing this show for ourselves alone. We don’t want the audience to feel so uncomfortable and left out that they want nothing more than to teleport back home and sit by the warm glow of their Netflix. Others might argue that they want their audience to feel as uncomfortable as possible. For their pieces, they are absolutely justified. They’re making electric, scorched earth, no stone unturned art. But right now, for our show, I’ll say that some discomfort is good, sandwiched between big costumes and cathartic dance breaks. This Is The Week wants the audience with us the whole time, until we earn that final musical number. Hell, I want you there the whole time. I want to make you laugh. Because it makes me feel like a freakin’ human.
There’s a sketch in the first act where Jen Childs and Susie Stevens are filming a ‘webisode’ of something. (I’m being careful to not give too much away, so excuse my being vague.) And they’re essentially talking to the audience the whole time. During rehearsal the other day, I was watching it and thinking. ‘What more do we need?’ There should be more. There should be you.
1812 Productions' annual political comedy This Is The Week That Is is written and performed by Jennifer Childs, Sean Close, Dave Jadico, Susan Riley Stevens, Rob Tucker, and Jenson Titus Lavallee.