Sunday, November 07, 2004

Are You Feeling It?

Jennifer Bangs and Andrew Husmann in The Desert Song. Posted by Hello

Last night I joined my brother again to watch his girlfriend perform in The Desert Song at the Lawrence Welk Theater. The show closes today, and I'd enjoyed it so much the first time that I couldn't resist the ticket he offered me. The place was sold out and the cast was on fire. Their closing weekend energy was almost palpable, and the audience was right there with them, laughing in all the right places, hissing at the villain and occasionally clapping in time with the music.

My brother's girlfriend has, during past performances in other shows at other venues, sometimes text-messaged him on her cell phone from backstage to report on the audience vibe. At times, she's said, the cast doesn't "feel the love." I've thought about this a lot -- the way the performers, as professionals, need to maintain the energy of the performance despite the audience's reaction, but also the way the performers feed off the audience's energy sometimes, and soar to new levels of, well, sparkliness. That's the only way I can put it.

As we enjoyed the show last night, I was aware that my brother and I, as well as his girlfriend's mother and brother, who were sitting next to us, would on occasion laugh out loud at comedic moments in the performance. I sensed we were doing this partly to encourage the performers, and partly out of genuine amusement. We know, after all, that the cast picks up on the audience's responses. We've seen plenty of performances and spoken with umpteen performers. I've soloed before audiences in the past, and I know how much the audience's response does matter to me...even if I'd like to think otherwise.

A few weeks ago I took myself to a movie -- "Shall We Dance?" It was the remake of a Japanese film that I saw a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed. However, the American remake added more passion and spark to the story, and as the ending credits began to roll, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. As I mentioned to my brother yesterday, I used to think it was slightly stupid or unsophisticated for a movie audience to applaud, since the movie performers and crew are not present to receive the applause (unless you live in Los Angeles and happen to sit behind Shelley Long during "Irreconcilable Differences," as I did once). My brother agreed, saying he'd learned in a theater class that when the cast of a live show takes their curtain call, it is a dialogue between the performers and the audience. Each thanks the other for their participation in the performance. My brother has held onto this idea ever since. When the audience applauded after "Shall We Dance?," however, I was moved by the realization that the show had affected the audience in such a way that they had to show their appreciation, regardless of the absence of live performers to receive it. I was moved to think that we had all enjoyed the performance immensely, and the audience's applause reminded me that we'd shared the same experience. It was a unifying moment. We shouldn't take these lightly; we need all the unification we can get these days.

Last night, as my brother's girlfriend and her peers sang and acted and danced their hearts out, I stole a glance down the row of fellow audience members beside me. The glow of the stage lights reflected off their faces, and I could see each one smiling widely, sometimes laughing out loud or nodding, thoroughly entranced by the production.

They were involved. They were part of the show. Part of the experience.

Feeling the love.