You can pay $10 to see a movie. The best Hollywood has to offer. $100 million worth of movie stars and special effects. It’s terrific. If you come back the next day, you can see the exact same movie for another $10. Everything will be exactly, precisely what you saw the day before. It’s terrific. It’s also the polar opposite of live theater.
You’ll pay three times as much to see live theater. (At least you will at my show, Defending the Caveman.) Each performance will be at least slightly different from the night before. A line, a movement, a laugh, not quite where it was or how it was. That’s where the magic lives, in the sacred space between last night and tonight. That is what makes live theater worth the extra cost. It’s a living work of art which only that night’s audience will experience.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a performance not even CLOSE to the one from the night before..
It was a normal performance. On track to run about 70 minutes, no intermission. The jokes were funny, and the drama was poignant. Everyone, from the audience, to the crew, the new bartender, and the cast…me…was having fun. Midway through the show, something odd happened. Something I haven’t seen in 44 years in showbusiness. Fully FIFTY PERCENT of the audience got up at the same time and headed to the showroom bar to get a drink. Half the audience, all at once.
The show can’t continue as planned under those conditions. The people at the bar will miss vital plot points, and their ordering and chatting will distract the ones still in their seats. Did I mention that the bar is 20 feet from the stage, at most? Since the show could not continue as planned, the show continued temporarily without a plan.
Troy Geiges is a comedy genius. He’s 6’3, good looking, and almost always the funniest person in the room. He’s my performance partner. Even though he never appears onstage, his presence is definitely felt. Troy is our technical director. He runs lights and sound for the show. Troy has over 8,000 sound effects, songs, and snippets of songs in his computer, and can access any of them in less than three seconds. Which he does, improvisationally, in response to things that happen in the sacred space between last night and tonight.
Once half the crowd was up and moving, Troy took over and played a hilarious intermission song. A bossa nova with a male voice occasionally sighing, “Intermission!” The audience in the seats and at the bar accepted that the show was now temporarily off the rails. For my part, I made the only logical choice available in the moment. I danced a credible bossa nova for 16 bars of music. A generous audience member handed me a double shot of Jack Daniels, and we all spent a few minutes sharing a drink and some off-script jokes about Las Vegas in general and Fremont Street in particular.
As soon as everyone was back in their seats, the second half of the show began. It was a completely different audience from the first half. The formal relationship between audience and cast had been completely thrown aside. We were all friends now. As we dove back into the script, the audience, Troy, and I all contributed, creating an entirely new show based upon the script, our unusual incident, and our new collaborative relationship.
All the major plot points were covered, but now the audience was adding in their own experiences. I took their additions and wove them back into the fabric of the script, all supported by Troy’s music and improv sound effects. It was a wonderful, totally immersive performance.
There was one small problem.
With the added time of our impromptu intermission, the show as-written was about to run fifteen minutes over our allotted time. There was another show scheduled after ours, and the clock was ticking. I began cutting the script in my head in order to compensate. At the same time, I was performing the script AND improvising with Troy and the audience. The double shot of Jack helped.
The show ended precisely on time. The crowd went nuts during the curtain call. As they should. It was their show as much as it was mine. Troy tells me that once I had exited backstage, the audience started shaking hands, high fiving, and chatting. A small community had been built, even if it was just for the space between tonight and tomorrow night.
You don’t get THAT at the movies.