Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Walnut Street Theatre Audience

Audiences differ so wonderfully from region to region, city to city, theatre to theatre. Over a long-history of theatre going, my favorite audience experiences have been at American Repertory Theatre, in Cambridge, MA, where I enjoyed season tickets during the mid 1980s.  It was a lively engaged audience made up equally of Harvard smarty pants and Boston area suburbanites coming into town for an event.  In a very different locale, I've equally enjoyed the audience for The Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival, in Durant, Ok., where it brought so much less in the way of preconceived notions about what theater 'should' be.

And now, I'm thoroughly enjoying the audience at The Walnut Street Theatre.  I've been in the house during many preview performances, checking my mental notes on lines, actions, and blocking of the actors for whom I'm understudying.  The audience around me is very comfortable with theater, and I detect little, if any, self-consciousness about it.  I've seen self-congratulatory audiences proud of their 'culture' (e.g., at The Alley, in Houston) and audiences energized and excited (e.g., Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in Ashland), but rarely outside of New York have I seen audiences so at home.  The talking and laughing and visiting between audience members during intermission is relaxed and extends right through the warning bells; many people don't sit down until after the lights start dimming.  The dress code is no code.  There are guys who look like they've just ditched their garage uniforms, school girls in dresses too-short, suburbanites dress all up-and-down the scale, and locals who've walked to the theatre at the spur of the moment, as if they'd been home choosing between an evening at the theatre or watching Law & Order, and tonight theater happened to win.  I love this crowd.

And the size of the houses!  The auditorium capacity is 1100.  Preview audiences have been numbering 750-800.  Thrilling.

And they love Noel Coward.  Awesome.

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