Actor Ian Merrill Peakes (The Player) shares his thoughts on the Folger Theatre production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
So in this business, we perform the same show eight times a week for several weeks. In this case seven weeks. Doing a little math, that’s 56 shows plus an extra student matinee. So, all told, we put on our natty attire and trod the boards 57 times for a paying audience. How in the world do we sustain the work?
Every actor goes about this process differently. There are those who love a long run, and there are those who get tired of the monotony. If you’ve been reading since the start of these zany blog posts, you will remember I’m a “snowflake” kind of fellow. Every cast, performance and audience is different.
To that end, I try to go to work and make the show fresh every night. Each show is inherently different with new eyes watching the story unfold. And that is in itself thrilling enough to keep the heart pumping and the energy up. Even on the days when the chore seems daunting, I step on stage and am pulled along by my cast mates and my audience.
I wonder sometimes if audiences are aware of what a vital part they play in our task. The energy they create is another character in the play and figuring out their rhythms is a huge part of what we do.
My father taught me about audiences. I was raised in a theater he founded in 1966. I was born in 1969. I spent my early years backstage: I played with props built by my mom; I painted sets and saw what theater was from the ground up. I firmly believe in what we do: we entertain. That’s our job.
We also do what we do for a paying audience. From as early on as I can remember, my father taught me that every audience is populated by folks who paid as much as the people the night before, and therefore deserve as good a show.
I believe that in every single performance, no matter how chilly the house, no matter how tired I am, no matter if the Detroit Lions are playing and I’d rather watch them beat the Green Bay Packers, I will give the audience what they paid for.
It’s the same with student matinees: the groups can be unruly or bored, but I know that somewhere in that mass of teen angst, there is at least one child who will become a lifelong theater patron.
I will finish with this. This past Sunday we had two shows – our 7th and 8th of the week – and we were curious as to where the energy was going to come from. Before the Sunday evening show many of us were pretty sure we’d rather be somewhere else.
Then a wonderful thing happened. Our Stage Manager Marne called places and we trooped on stage. Urged on by one another and the audience, we gave a rousing performance. I like to think that deep in our collective subconscious, my father’s words were our inspiration. There they were: a full house. They were due their money’s worth. And they got what they paid for.