A look at audiences from the actors' points of view
Jeff Still, above, and Jack Cutmore-Scott could see plenty going on in the audience during their performances of "Red."
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Two plays, two theaters, two tales of Pittsburgh audiences as seen from the stage.
Jeff Still starred as Mark Rothko and Jack Cutmore-Scott as his assistant Ken in the recently concluded Pittsburgh Public Theater production of "Red," a duel between a passionate, confrontational artist and his aspirational apprentice. The O'Reilly Theater's thrust stage was set as the gymnasium remade into a studio that could accommodate Rothko's murals. Luke Macfarlane goes it alone for City Theatre's "Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir" in the intimate Hamburg Studio Theatre, which has been transformed into a cabaret setting.
Here are snippets of what the actors see when they are looking at you:
Jeff Still: It's an interesting layout. Some people are right on top of us and some people are far away; it's like working in two theaters at once.
Jack Cutmore-Scott: I've been impressed by the pretty consistent size of the audience. I was saying to Ted Pappas that college wasn't that long ago. I can remember audiences of eight people, and to have him say 250 people is tiny is a great feeling for me. Even compared to Boston and New York, they're really good houses, they're sizeable, they're supportive, and it's incredibly rewarding to perform for an audience that responds as the audiences have done here. ... Unfortunately, you notice the one or two people who are not with it more than you notice the 300 and something that are.
J.S.: And they practically insist that you observe them. They are not subtle. It's not like we're staring at them, but when people recline over two seats to take a nap or when people talk to each other throughout the show -- and these are people who are in the front row -- I just often wonder if they came to observe it like they were sitting in the house or something. Wouldn't you be more comfortable in a seat further away?
J.C.S.: What bugs us, especially for those on the sides [of the thrust theater], as much as I'm upset that they are not enjoying my performance, the thought that they might be distracting another audience member ... but I did talk to my friends who came the other night who were in the main part of the audience when we had that young couple ...
J.S: ... yes, Ken and Barbie ...
J.C.S.: ... they were having an interesting conversation that they didn't want to put on hold ...
J.S.: ... for the entire show; through the curtain call ...
J.C.S.: ... and I was incredibly bothered because they were right there. How could you not see them? But my friends didn't see them, and that was comforting.
J.S.: We're happy people are coming out to see it. Even in the first week, Ted said there were repeat sales. People have been incredibly nice.
Over at City Theatre, Mr. Macfarlane is performing a world premiere in a setting where people are seated at small tables. The setting and his direct monologue may make audience members wonder if they are there to participate or observe. He's seen both:
L.M.: It's always interesting when you've been working on something so long and you finally present it to the world. You hope that it's understood, and I've been really impressed and they seem to understand what we are trying to do. We're presenting in a unique format and it sort of challenges audiences because they have to be like, "Who am I in this scenario? Am I here with you? Can I talk to you?"
We've actually had a few audience members who have talked to me, which is interesting because I don't see why they wouldn't, because they are sitting at little tables and I'm talking to them like they are my old friends. The audiences have been full, which has been really wonderful; it makes the theater happy.
First Published December 15, 2011 12:00 am