Monday, December 11, 2006


Before each show, I do what's called a "warm-up". I discuss the process of creating a new play, give some insight into the playwright, and talk a bit about the plot (but not too much, since I don't want to give anything away) and themes (race is one of them). I end with this spectacular quote about the audience's role in theater, which I got from a friend - really inspirational, and it totally hooks the people.

Unfortunately, there's kind of an open-door policy, so I may only start with a couple of people, and as the show gets closer, more people start wandering in. And some of them are old, and some people are talking, and occasionally a cell phone goes off. But, generally, if I have them listening for the closing speech, I'm able to hook them.

Yesterday, I was in a terrible mood. I was really sore (this play takes a toll on my body) and tired (which is another story) and I didn't particularly want to to a matinee. And when I got to the theater for the talk, there were no ushers to control the crowd. So I knew that there was going to be a lot of disruption.

There was a very small group of people there for the beginning, when I talk about the themes of the play. The majority of the crowd arrived right before my spectacular ending (which is great, because nothing ruins the ending like some people barging in). So I launch into my talk about the role of the audience, and people are engaged, and I started feeling ok. And I finished, and thanked the audience, and asked if any one had any questions about what I had just said, or for me personally (sometimes people want to hear my bio) or about the play.

And this sixty-something white guy, who was only there for the feel-good audience portion of it, raises his hand and says:

"Is the 'n-word' used in this play?"

I can't remember the last time I was (a) so shocked, and (b) so close to telling someone off in a public setting. Instead of engaging, I stared at him for a second, gave a curt, "No," and moved on.

I think that the rest of the audience was surprised, because there were no other questions.

I don't know if I can properly articulate to you why this upset me so much. I wished I had asked him why that was important to him, because now all I am left with are questions. I guess I just felt that I had spent all of this time talking about a very complicated issue, and this guy came in and reduced it to ethnic slurs.



L. Britt said...

I am still thinking about it...hmmm.

Dramaturgically - and your inspirational speech aside - I take issue with the whole idea of a "warm up." Does the theatre not have enough faith in its audience or its actors or its playwright to let the play speak for itself?

I will get back to you on the ignorant comment...I need to muse.

Anonymous said...

i get the warm up idea. It is better to make sure the idea is on the right track if you are worried about it. The thing about theater is that it is so easy to freeze people out, and that is what turns people off to it. The whole "psuedo-intellectual" feeling it can sometimes give.

This guy clearly just didn't get it.

Hey, where are you anyway? saw one of your classmates the other day...


The Bird man said...

I bet his question was sparked by the whole Michael Richards comedy club fiasco, and the recent calls by black "leaders" to cease all uses of the "N-word."
Were you personally offended or professionally offended?...meaning as a black man did it bother you that a white guy was asking you about the word, or as a professional actor were you offended that this guy had just undercut all the other interesting and good things about the play and your speech by asking about the word?
-The Bird Man

L. Britt said...

I like Bird Man's question: was it personal or professional or both?

Here's what I think: the man was probably only progessive enough to know that he should get upset over that word. Any subtle or nuanced displays of racism would go right over his head. He probably wanted to be prepared to be offended, and that was the only way he knew to be offended.

Honestly, I think the whole "warm up" idea is silly. Are you the only person who does it? Why don't they make the skanky old lady do it?

The Rover said...

It was both, but more professional. This play is trying to deliver a certain message, and I felt like this guy undercut it before we even started. I can see how he may have had non-malicious intentions, but I felt pretty crappy when I walked out of the room.

I hate the idea of a "warm up", too. The current artistic director tried to get rid of them a few years ago, but the subscriber base REBELLED. And they always mention that too: "These were gone for a couple of years, and I made a phone call, and we're so excited that they're back."

I don't think they want HOL doing these. Besides, they pay me pretty well for doing them...the artistic director will do them when she is in town, but that's not very often these days...