Sunday, November 23, 2008

Green Room Perjury

There is a thing that happens with community theatre that I really don't like. It's where the actors come out after a performance and line up so that the audience has to pass by all of them in order to get out of the theatre. In theory, I guess this is to give the performers a chance to meet the audience and thank them personally for coming to the performance.

This isn't a new tradition. Way back in the 1960s, when we first attended Lamplighters shows, there was always a curtain speech inviting the audience to join the cast members in the audience for free coffee and cookies and to give them a chance to meet us and thank us personally. (Difficult financial times necessitated the elimination of the free cookies and coffee long ago, but the cast still comes out for the meet and greet.)

Of course in those years they didn't line up so you couldn't get out of the theatre without encountering them and it was easy to get your cookies and even rub elbows with a performer without actually having to think of something to say. (The exception to this was a night when the audience was very small and I had fallen asleep during the performance and a guy came up to me afterwards and asked if I'd enjoyed my nap!)

I have said here many times that I'm shy and I just hate being put into a situation where I have to meet someone I don't know. I never know what to say. I am so envious of my colleague Jeff Hudson, with whom we sometimes carpool to shows. Jeff will talk to anybody about anything and he knows all the actors and directors and producers. He's the consummate reporter. I never could be.

It's even worse if I'm the reviewer of a show. If this is a good show, I'm going to have good things to say about most of the performers, but there are going to be a few clunkers in there and if their performance has been horrible, I'm going to say not so nice things about them and I hate to smile and shake the hand of an actor that I'm going to go home and write bad things about for the newspaper.

Sometimes you get lucky and the theatre's architecture is such that you can escape by a side door and not have to mix with the actors. Or the aisles may be so wide that you can slip past the people standing there telling Mary Smith, who just gave the worst performance you've seen in a long time, how wonderful she was.

I like to give my criticism from the safety of my own home, thank you.

What's worst is when the actor who has given a bad performance is someone you know personally as a friend. That's the real problem with community theatre. Too often you know half the cast personally.

Many, many years ago a friend of ours had the lead role in a very well known play. I won't say what play, I won't say which theatre and I won't identify this actor as a man or a woman -- I am using the generic 'actor' to refer to either gender.

Anyway, I was very anxious to see this person perform because the role seemed ideal. I could easily picture the actor in this role and thought that it was going to be a very exciting evening.

Only the actor was worse than bad. The actor was abominable. From the first couple of lines spoken, it was painful to watch the performance. During the first act, I leaned over and whispered to Walt, "can we leave at intermission?" "No," he whispered back. "Too many people here know us."

And so we stayed to the bitter end...and I do mean "bitter" end.

But the actor had known we were coming and was expecting to see us after the performance so we took a deep breath and went to the stage where the actors were meeting people.

Years before I had heard the term "green room perjury." The Green Room is the room where actors wait before going on for a performance, or hang around between scenes (it is not necessarily painted green, but that's what it's called). Someone at the Lamplighters had told me about green room perjury years before, the kinds of non-committal statements you make to a performer who has done badly that sound good, but really aren't.

Things like "I've never seen anything quite like your performance," or "What a memorable performance!" or "You must really have worked hard to produce a performance like that." The actor thinks you're praising the performance when in reality you're avoiding any comment whatsoever.

So we went to greet our friend who had just done this awful, awful performance and I muttered something inane about memorable performances (obviously it was memorable--this was probably 20 years ago now and I still remember it clearly!)

Fortunately, I wasn't a critic then. I was actually offered the job of critic many years before I finally accepted it. But the thing that kept me from taking the job at that time was one particular actor. This was a very popular actor who, in my estimation, couldn't act at all and sang even worse. I knew that a good deal of my job would be reviewing this particular actor, whom theatre goers in town just loved, and I knew I couldn't lie and say the performances good, but because we were atually friends socially, I also couldn't be honest because of what it would do to our friendship, so I never did accept the job until the actor retired from performing.

The whole theatre thing gets very convoluted when you are involved personally, whether it's your job, or whether you've come to see friends perform. But I just wish that I didn't have to do that damn reception line so often. My very favorite places to review shows are places where you don't encounter the actors at all (such as the touring Broadway productions), or places where, if the actors come out, it's after they have removed their costumes and are mingling as just regular people and you can pretend you don't recognize them.

2 comments:

http://abebedorespgondufo.blogs.sapo.pt/ said...

I like your blog.
Paulo
Portugal

Sara said...

Hello, Michele sent me to say I admire the fact that you can be a critic...I could never do it...

Looked over a few of your other blogs - and enjoyed them...