Live theater is an art. So is watching it.
We live in a war of light against darkness, gentle readers. The great divide is everywhere — and the audiences of live theater are no exception. The devils act like it’s their living room; they rip open their cough drops, check their Facebook updates, and come home complaining that theater stinks these days. Meanwhile, the angels in the audience are transported to other times and places. They fly higher and higher. It’s not because they’re nice people. They’ve just mastered certain skills.
Read on for tips from area theater pros on how to get the most out of live theater.
Take their advice, and take your seat on Cloud 9 with the other angels. Or don’t, and ruin it for everybody.
The choice is yours.
Director, actor, and co-artistic director of the Urbanite Theatre
"Be here now. And bring a sweater."
Be present. I don’t mean put down your cell phone and stop crinkling the candy wrappers. The rude behavior we roll our eyes at is a symptom, not the disease. It’s a sign you’re not in the room; your mind is someplace else. We have our best performances when the people are all present and breathing the same air as the actors — when they’re with us, both physically and emotionally. So, please check your mental baggage at the door. Leave your day behind and get ready to go on a storytelling trip.
That’s my big advice for the life of the mind. For the body, I’d say bring a sweater. We’ve got to keep it cold—and that’s true for every theater in town. When your actors start collapsing of heat stroke, the show does not go on.
Director, actor and associate director of Florida Studio Theatre
"Live theater is a trip. Don’t be frightened. Get started."
The art of theater is the art of empathy. You sit in a darkened room for an hour or two, and you literally put yourself in other people’s shoes. People with different beliefs, origins and orientations. And living in different worlds. That difference shouldn’t be a turn-off: it’s the point! Come open minded and open hearted and be willing to have your values challenged: While you’re here, prepare to embrace any conflicting feelings. Ask yourself: “Why am I feeling this? What am I resisting? Where is the play taking me and what happens if I get there?” You may be surprised at the answers. We’re not Disney World. We’re not just here to make you happy. We’re here to take to the places everyone fears to tread. Embrace your inner conflict, travel with us, and enjoy the journey.
Director, actor, playwright, and artistic director of Little Grey Hat Productions
"Do your homework."
Ignorance isn’t bliss. That’s probably the most ignorant idea of all time, and it’s especially ignorant with regards to live theater. Let’s say you come to a play as a blank slate. You know zero, zip, nada about the playwright, the play, the director, the actors, the theater company, the novel the play was adapted from, the issues it’s wrestling with, or the critical response to the play. That’s a really bad idea. There’s so much variety these days, you can’t expect every show to be your cup of tea. Your unhappy surprise could become a complaint. “Copenhagen” is full of hard science stuff! There’s full frontal nudity in “Hair.” To avoid this fate, read reviews, dig around on the Internet, and talk to your friends who’ve seen it. Patrons who’ve done just a little homework get far more out of the plays they should see—and avoid the ones they shouldn’t. People are terrified of spoilers. But knowledge never spoils a play; it only deepens your engagement. It’ll also save you the trouble of writing angry letters.
Director, actor, playwright, and co-artistic director of Gotta Van Productions
"Let the magic happen."
I like to go to the theater with what I call, “Shaman eyes and Shaman ears.” When the lights go down, I surrender to the magic of the agreed-upon reality on stage and enjoy the ride. I also open myself for healing. At its best, live theater transforms what I see and hear and helps me to better know myself and the human condition. The storytellers on stage work their magic; they give me a chance to learn and grow and reexamine my life choices. My advice to people who’ve never been to live theater is to let the magic happen. Let the make-believe absorb you for awhile. When you’re in the theater, be in the theater. Don’t be in such a hurry to get out and go on to the next thing.
Director and producing artistic director of The Manatee Players
"Set minds to open. Engage."
An open mind is the most important tool you can bring to a play. So many theatergoers are immediately turned off if the characters don’t share the same values or lifestyle. They’re different—and that pushes the buttons of some built-in aversion. But why stick with the safe and familiar? You can see that at home, you don’t have to go to the theater. We want to show you something you haven’t seen. If your mind starts to shut down, please stay with us. Try to really listen and take in the dialog or lyrics. Allow yourself to be transported into the world the actors are creating. Open your mind and see life through a different set of eyes. You’ll find empathy and acceptance when you do.
Director and artistic director of The Players Centre For Performing Arts
"The box of chocolates theory."
Live theater is really like life. (And life is like a box of chocolates, as the great Southern philosopher Forest Gump reminds us.) You never know what you’re going to get, so just relax and enjoy it. You don’t have to be a genius, well trained, or even an arts enthusiast to know what you do or don’t like. Just laugh and clap at what’s in front of you on stage if you like it—and please sit quietly if you don’t!
Playwright and director
"Be choosy. Life is short."
My wife, Jo Morello, and I bought season tickets only once in our 27 years in the area. We were burned. Never again. With local openings, we now decide on a play-by-play basis. We scan the ’net for the play’s history and reviews. If we see enough solid support, we buy tickets for that one play, not the whole season. For Jo and I, each play has to stand on its own merits. We may miss out on a Broadway-bound musical as a result, but that might not be a bad thing.
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