During the first months of the year, a friend and I directed a play together: Outlaws, Goldmines, and Whatnot. On performance day, I realized that our directing work was done. Oh, we had makeup to help with, questions to answer, and I gave what one of the boys called my Storming the Beach at Normandy speech but now it was up to the actors.
They had worked. They knew their lines. They understood their characters and their place in the story. What they didn’t know was how the audience would respond.
The lights went down and the actors took the stage. The play began and the audience laughed.
That was new.
So they adapted. They repeated the lines swallowed up by the laughter. Then they thought ahead. All those lines that had tickled them in the early practices, in the days before they were numbed by weeks of repetition? They paused after those, ready for the audience to fill the gap.
Their acting changed, too. The outlaws were badder. Romance, more romantic. Bravado, more nauseating. It was fabulous, just exactly as it should be.
On the stage.
My daughter was on that stage. As she effused her thrill at being spoken to by a young count she’d been secretly admiring, my friend leaned in close to whisper, “Look at her play to the audience!”
Maternal pride mingled with unexpected sadness. That sweet girl wants to be an actor someday. She loves to make people happy and I hope she keeps her acting to the stage and out of the rest of her life.
All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; They all have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts; His act being seven stages. –William Shakespeare, As You Like It
We enter, helpless and naked. We’ll exit, feeble and frail. We aren’t here long before the audience comes into play.
From my seat I could tell that not all of the laughers responded in the same places. Some lines elicited laughter from across the theater. Others got a reaction from one section while the rest of the audience remained quiet. And sometimes the laughter came from a single seat.
The response from the single seat was subtle. The actors were busy acting and I don’t know if they even noticed it. In life, though, it is the one we need to attend to.
It’s hard to resist playing to the reacting audience, especially for those of us who like to make people happy. Just as people in the audience responded to different lines, the people in our lives will be pleased by different things.
So Shakespeare is right. Kind of.
All the world. Absolutely. The audience is there, but we get to choose who we will play to. Will it be made up of the ones who call so loudly, the ones our hearts nearly insist we try to please? Or will it be the One in the single seat, the One voice that really matters, even when everyone else is silent?