Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Going On (Expressing Two Meanings: 'Going Onstage' And 'Continuing On' Should The Double-Meaning Be Foggily Unclear And When You Have To Explain Them It Invariably Is"

It was an illuminating contrast.

In the course of a few days I had experienced attending a show – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical performed at the cavernous Pantages Theater in Hollywood – capacity: 2703 seats; I did not count them, I looked it up later – and a production of Bill W. and Dr. BOB at Theater 68 (so named because the company’s founder had sixty-eight cents in the bank when he established it) – capacity:  45 seats; those ones I actually counted – located in North Hollywood, which should not be confused with the actual Hollywood, the actual Hollywood including swarms of tourists and the stars’ names immortalized in the sidewalk and North Hollywood, comprised primarily of people overshooting the actual Hollywood, arriving in North Hollywood by mistake.

At the performance of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical I attended, the Pantages Theater was full – we were sitting in “Row YY”, giving us visual access to the packed auditorium in front of us, my assumption without turning around being that “Row ZZ” was totally occupied as well. 

At North Hollywood’s Theater 68, there were thirty-four attendees (again, I actually counted them), the 45-seat venue filled to about three-quarters of its capacity.  (If you exclude the two free-standing bridge chairs leaning against the back wall, should they be needed to accommodate the “overflow.”)

Do you see what I’m getting at?

Two shows performed before audiences.  So in both cases, it’s show business. 

But in reality, it’s Neiman Marcus versus The Ninety-Nine Cents Store.

At (“ball park”) a hundred dollars a ticket, we’re talking about one theater taking in approximately a quarter of a million dollars per performance, as opposed to a production, which, if you use two paper towels in the Men’s Room, you have virtually erased the struggling theater company’s profit margin.   

Am I getting my point across here?

We are talking about, although under a similar umbrella, two remotely related varieties of the entertainment business.

And I wonder – and I am aware of this observation dripping with condescension, which, despite my loftiest intentions, I am unable to extricate from my thinking process and consequently from this commentary – do the actors in this shoestring operation ever compare the two disparately scaled productions and go…


I understand the energizing elation of “Let’s put on a show.”  I experienced it originally at camp.  More recently, visiting our tiny log cabin in Indiana, I felt it watching the Dunes Summer Theater rendition of The Pirates of Penzance. 

You have to believe me about this.  We have seen shows on Broadway and in London.  And I’m telling you, in terms of energy, talent and execution, that Indiana production of The Pirates of Penzance was as exhilarating as any stage show we have ever attended.

I recall bounding over to the man we had learned was the show’s director at intermission, bursting with enthusiasm and high praise, and learning in the course of our conversation that, during the extended “off season”, the director’s “day job” was laboring in a local factory.

Knowing my facial reactions as well as I do, I am certain they betrayed the genuine agonization I felt for a clearly talented director, relegated to doing what he was demonstrably meant to do as a parenthetical sideline. 

Directing a Gilbert and Sullivan classic in the summertime and then returning to the “production line” in the fall?  The reality ate agonizingly at my innards.  It was inconceivable to me that that that could possibly be enough. 

The thing is…

Who am I to say it’s not enough? 

And who am I similarly to say that performing in a three-quarters full 45-seat theater in North Hollywood isn’t enough?

“Satisfaction” is a matter of attitude.  Of which mine has never once been considered “Top-of-the-Line.”

I made it to the “big time”.  And who themselves wouldn’t want to?  But – adopting an alien perspective for only this paragraph – directing in the summer is better than not directing at all.  And performing in a show playing to thirty-five people is an exultational windfall compared to receiving the message:  “You know the part you tried out for in that North Hollywood production?  We are giving it to somebody else.”

We happened to know one of the actors performing in Bill W. and Dr. BOB.  (We actually went there to see him.)  When we approached him after the show, there was this palpable sense of our friend’s being “lit up” by the jolt of “electricity” you get (almost exclusively) from performing in front of an audience.  The actor compared it how he felt when he was a wide receiver for his Nebraska Cornhusker football team, the difference in “crowd size” (thirty-five versus seventy thousand), he explained, being of negligible consequence. 

What he appreciated was the physicality of both experiences.  And you could sense its residual effects following the show.  The guy was literally – well, not literally – “on fire.”

It’s amazing how “Poor you” converts quickly to envy, witnessing the rewards of an activity you have been consciously deriding.

(Exposing the wish you yourself were onstage anywhere.)

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I spent a number of years of my adult life performing as a solo folksinger. The largest audience I ever played for was probably at one of the folk festivals - Tonder in Denmark, or possibly one of the workshop stages at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Figure my largest audience was maybe 2,000. My smallest was probably around five in a small folk club, but trust me that was a whole lot better than some of the middle ranges, such as the lunchtime concerts in community college cafeterias, where you might have 100 people, but they'd all be more interested in eating and talking to each other. It was the latter that were the most discouraging and demoralizing because they didn't care if you were there, and I didn't have any fellow band members, where you could shrug and just have a good time playing with each other.

Then I went into journalism and started writing for audiences of a few hundred thousand. I liked that a *whole* lot.

So, based on that: I think having an appreciative audience that cares about what you're doing can make up for a *whole* lot. I would also note that while I have less than no interest in seeing Carole King-the-musical I would *love* to see the play about Bill W and Dr Bob.

(PS: samples of my former profession are at