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.