In 2016 I had just directed a comedy called, There Is A Happiness That Morning Is by Mickle Maher. It was a story inspired by William Blake’s poetry about two college professors who were forced to apologize to the students after being caught fornicating in the bushes on campus. It is a very funny play written entirely in verse. During the final performances, a sold-out benefit show. The only seat left in the entire house was in the front row just to the right of the three-quarter thrust stage. And so, this is where I sat. Typically, a director doesn’t have to return to the show once it has opened, but this was a fundraiser, so I showed up. I was also curious about how the show had grown since I last saw it. So, there I sat in the last available seat in the house. The lights came up, the hum of the audience became quiet and the show started. While watching the play, I remember sitting there thinking how wonderful it had come together, and how well the actors were playing the comedy, and how my seat was not ideal but that I was happy to have wine in my hand. I remember watching the audience and observing how they were reacting to the story and finding delight in their collective smiles and engagement.
After the show, we were all gathered in the lobby for a reception when the lead actress walked up to me and asked if I hated the show? I was a bit taken back by the question and responded by saying, “Not at all, why?” She then proceeded to tell me that for the entire show she did not see me smile once and assumed that I hated the performance. I was devastated because this could not have been further from the truth. In fact, I was really proud of that show and thought she was perfectly cast for the role and did a phenomenal job.
What I learned from this experience is two things:
When we are on stage, live or virtual, we cannot project onto our audience what they might be thinking or feeling. This will not only take you out of the present moment but will also keep you from serving your audience in the best way possible. It is important to know that not everyone will like you, but If you can reach at least one person, you have done your job. So, focus on serving and less on what the dude sleeping in the front row might be thinking. Who knows? Maybe he has a newborn baby at home and this was his first opportunity to relax? We all have multiple stories.
And secondly, I learned how important it is to show up as an audience member and in this case, as a leader. Since I was the director, I should have been more mindful of my own behavior and more intentional about what I wanted to model. Maybe if I had sat down with the intention to be more present with what was happening on stage, my actor may have felt seen and more supported by me.