by Damaris Montalvo
I’m a theatre fan – particularly of The Theatre @ Boston Court, where I have been a member since 2010. And it’s clear to me that whenever I go see a play (anywhere in LA; not just T@BC), I help bring down the average age of the house. I’m twenty-six years old.
This makes complete sense: while my generation is busy paying off student loans and trying to establish a career, Baby Boomers have the disposable income to invest in entertainment – and they deserve it. They’ve worked hard most of their lives so they can come to the edge of their seats, lean in, and enjoy the edgy, forward-thinking theatre T@BC brings to the stage. But our generation gap also means that we inevitably have different reactions to what we see before us.
While Boomers type on their computer keyboard with their two index fingers, Millennials are used to the Web 2.0, where we’re invited to generate content as a primary means of engagement. This type of user experience translates to the way we consume our media and experience our entertainment. In a way, we expect theatre to invite a certain degree of interaction, particularly if you break the fourth wall.
If you remove the deceit and call attention to the fact that I’m a happy audience member watching your meta-theatrical performance, then I’m going to take that as an invitation to laugh and gasp and sigh and maybe even “woo!” when you make a racy comment or gesture. I’m going to be empowered to voice my reactions, so instead of chuckling discreetly with my neighbor, I’m going to let out a hearty laugh to let the actor know, “I see what you did there …”
In my most recent viewing of T@BC’s The Government Inspector, I sat in the back row, breaking free from form, as my friends and I typically snag the front row. This was our third viewing of the show, so we decided to give parallax a shot. I noticed that I felt the need to laugh harder and stronger, and to clap at key moments because the rest of the audience was not engaging in the same way with the actors. For example, there’s this one moment when the Mayor takes his daughter’s baby picture and shows it to the folks in the front row. A few weeks ago, when that was me, a heartfelt “awww” escaped my lips, and John Billingsley pointed and acknowledged my sentiment, which, of course, yielded a little giggle. Yesterday, however, no one in the front row reacted to the picture – at least not audibly. I also noticed that people didn’t clap during key meta moments – a very different experience from when my friends and I (ages 23 to 42) took up the entire front row on LiveWired night.
So I thought that if I laughed harder, other people would be encouraged to do the same. I also noticed that a young couple in front of us was also laughing when we did, but they were stifling their laughter and trying to be discreet, probably for the benefit of their demure neighbors. I noticed that my Boomer neighbor was chuckling at the same things I found funny, and I realized that he was enjoying himself just as much as I was – but in his own way. And that’s okay. As long as we’re both enjoying ourselves, that’s what matters.
But I couldn’t help but wonder what the actors thought of us as a house yesterday – especially as compared to LiveWired.
I thought back on my high school theatre days and how the nights with the most energy were the nights when the audience was reacting the most to what we did on the stage. As an actor, their reaction was an affirming acknowledgment that they “were getting it,” and that my gestures – however subtle or overt – were making an impact and keeping them engaged.
So I wonder whether the actors could hear the laughter coming from the back row, and whether they cared, or whether they were content with the presumably smiling faces in the front row.
In any case, The Government Inspector is a hilarious satire, and I’m thankful it made me laugh and gasp and sigh and even “woo!”