Little Fish Theatre is an intimate setting. With seventy-one seats, this year’s Pick of the Vine features the largest capacity I’ve ever performed in during my nine seasons with the company. With so few chairs in the audience, every seat offers an excellent view of the stage. It’s almost as if the actors are right in your lap. But be warned: as close as the actors are to you, you’re just as close to them.
Every actor has mastered what I like to call the art of peeking. There are always secret places – a nail hole, a curtain, a shadow – where an actor can stand and peer out into the crowd before taking the stage. It’s just as entertaining for the actors to watch the audience as it is for the audience to watch us. That’s why we do live theater: for the instant feedback. And the peeking doesn’t stop once we’re onstage.
Just this past Saturday, I was performing in the evening’s final piece when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that an audience member was looking straight at me. I wasn’t the one who was speaking – in fact, I didn’t have a line for another five minutes – but we were close enough to each other that I heard him point out to his wife that the book I was reading was written by Sigmund Freud. At that point, I knew I had a fish on the line.
Thus began a sort of parlance that only actors are aware of. I watched him without looking at him, and noticed what was working. The more my character became fascinated in what he was reading, the more this guy nudged his wife to point out my reactions. So, naturally, I tailored my reactions to be entertaining to only him. For three or four minutes that night, I was performing for an audience of one. Don’t get me wrong: I was cognizant of the rest of the audience as well. It’s not as if I was trying to steal the focus of the whole piece, but that’s what makes theater in a venue as intimate as Little Fish Theatre so rewarding for an audience member: if you’re astute enough, and you pay attention to the right things, you’ll never see the same show twice.
But don’t let any actor kid you: we don’t do it just for you, we do it for ourselves as well. Your reactions spur us on to better our performances, and when we peek out into the black and we spot you enjoying the show, we might throw in something special just for you.