Saturday, 12 November 2011

Treading the boards.

I've seen some things lately.  Things that fascinate and make me wonder.

The other night I went to a local comedy night with a friend of mine.  We dabble in comedy, talk about comedy, work on writing comedy and improvise comedy.  We've cowritten some comic songs too.  Our conversations are hilarious and when we're together we have a lot of fun.  What a great combination for a comedy night.  We're generous audience members and want success for the people on stage.

I went along knowing nothing except where I had to go and what time I needed to be there.  This is my favourite way to do things.  I like to just turn up and have the experience naively, without thinking about all the things I've read or heard.

The MC for the night was fun and high energy and quite good looking.  He made a good choice for this kind of evening.  The next guy who came on was easy to spot in the crowd (there's no backstage at these kinds of comedy gigs).  He was, er, funny looking.  Funny looking is a great thing to be if you're a comedian.  If you're happy to put yourself completely out there and talk about the obvious, the audience will love you for it.  And we did.  He brought me to tears - laughing tears.

The next act was a guy who stood out while he was waiting - for all the wrong reasons.  He looked unhappy and he didn't look funny.  I don't mean physically.  I think I mean energetically.  He looked as if his mantra was "I'm going to bomb tonight".  You probably don't need to even keep reading to work out what happened.  Firstly, he was dressed like a dodgy accountant or one of those suburban conveyancing solicitors that work out of a space above a shop in a strip of shops in a suburb that will be up-and-coming in about ten years.  His material wasn't that great, but there was some reasonable stuff in there if only he had believed in himself.  He would do his material and before he'd even given us a chance to laugh or think about it, through his body language he told the audience not to laugh.  So we didn't.  He thought he was terrible; so we did too.  I wanted to go up to him afterwards and tell him that if he wasn't expecting himself to be funny, he'd better forget comedy as a career.  Imagine being a comedian saddled with the knowledge that you're not funny!  How far can you go with that? And why would you want to go anywhere with that in your head?

The MC did a magnificent job getting the audience happy again after that guy had finished.

Later in the week I saw another live performance.  Some elements of it were wonderful, but others were terrible.  The most startling thing was the apparent difficulty some of the actors had of walking from one side of the stage to the other. It was a crowd scene on stage and so people had to "mill" and walk around the stage as if it was the town.  I'm sure these people can walk normally in real life.  What happens when people are asked to take two steps across the stage with feeling?  They turn into puppets whose stride follows the "same arm, same leg" pattern - as I call it.  That is, as they step with their left foot they swing their left arm - same on the right side.  Who walks like this?  When has anyone ever walked like this?

In the same show there was a scene with people carrying very heavy sacks and boxes.  Obviously if you're the director of the show, you're not going to actually give people really heavy stuff to carry around the stage. They're going to be given empty suitcases and directed to remember they are carrying their manuscript to their unpublished novel, a typewriter and a bottle of whiskey.  Some people were doing a good job of looking like they were lugging really heavy stuff.  One player in particular was labouring intensely under the weight of his sack.  When he arrived at his spot on the stage he threw the sack down on the ground and it landed with a heavy thud.  No, that's not what happened.  He floated the sack down to the ground where it lightly touched the stage and would have blown away if a strong wind went through the theatre.  Like a tumbleweed.   One of his fellow players was carrying a "very heavy box".  It really looked like the box was heavy, even to the point where he put it down.  Until something else was put on top of it and it sagged!

It's really distracting when people on stage aren't convinced about the reality of themselves being there.  Whether they have the smallest role on the stage or are the lone stand up comic, looking like you're meant to be there is  a great place to start.  Oh, and if you're contemplating doing any work in front of other people, spend time practising walking!

1 comment:

  1. "If you fully believe in yourself, the audience can't help but believe too. " Warina Lighthouse