Reminder of the curtain: a better memory of the theatrical experience as an audience
With the reopening of theaters and cinemas, I hope that the culture of going to see something will pick up again as well. While this is wishful thinking, I hope the culture is much more disciplined. By this, I do not mean only following the Covid protocols (which should be followed by the way) but following certain practices which are even more basic.
With the exception of a few theaters in India, almost all theaters allow late entry for the public. Even if it’s a nuisance for everyone, especially the live artists. In fact, when staging plays on a commercial level, it is customary not to have anything important during the first five minutes of the play and after the intermission as well as this time is given to the audience of ” to settle down ”! I always laughed at these suggestions and even tried to restrict entry to latecomers. But so far it has not worked because the sites do not follow this policy. I experimented with a way around this, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise!
Two weekends earlier, I had written about the experience of playing in a venue in London’s coveted Westend. We were to be there for almost eight days and had some technical and management work a few days before the actual show. After a few hours of work, the rest of the day was free. I had decided to watch as many plays as possible and had kept a calendar of all the current productions and locations. My wife had accompanied him and we first watched a comedy together called “The Piece That Goes Bad”. It was a hilarious play and we both really enjoyed it. Fortunately, she agreed to watch more pieces too. This approval was important because watching plays there is very expensive, especially because of the exchange rate! And we decided to spend most of our money on plays instead of buying things.
We made a list of parts and ranked them in order of preference. Some were sold months ago, others were overpriced. But we had decided to watch one play a day no matter what and really enjoyed watching new plays like “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night” to all-time classics like “The Lion King”.
We had saved the day when we had our own free performance, of course. Our service went well. We helped pack and load the set and later we went to lunch and met with members of the public for an informal get-together. After all of that, we checked the time and realized that there was a slight possibility that we could look at one more coin before we returned to India! I quickly browsed through nearby cinemas and focused on a production of “The Bank Robbery Comedy”.
It was played by the same band that had played “The Bad Play” and we had heard that even it was a great comedy. The venue was a mile away and we only had a few minutes. We rushed through the crowd, almost running at times, and reached the theater huffing and puffing. Usually we used to pre-book tickets, but for this piece we decided to buy directly at the box office.
When we arrived the person at the box office informed us that the performance had already started and that we were three minutes late. We cursed our luck and decided to just wander off when the person noticed our disappointment and offered two tickets. But he told us that we will only be able to enter after the end of the first scene, during the blackout.
We agreed and it felt right. To make the experience even smoother, the person gave us the best seats in the house at half price! He then gave us brochures of the play that explained what the play is and who the characters are so that we get a good idea of what must have happened in the first scene.
We were assigned a bailiff who took us to the door. The bailiff also liked plays and seeing that we read our brochures diligently, he took it upon himself to explain to us what the first scene is! So at the door, in a very low voice, he told the story of the whole first scene, while the sounds of dialogue and the laughter of the audience could be heard from inside. It was a wonderful experience and he was very good! He then heard music and the audience applauded and immediately opened the door. He knew the place very well and guided us to our seats in a flash. He made sure we were comfortable and before the stage lights came on he was gone! The second scene started and it was like we hadn’t missed a thing.
It remains one of my best theatrical experiences as a spectator. Usually, I remember parts based on their performance. But it was the first time I remembered it for the experience. The discipline that was followed, with such care for the art made it truly special!
Nipun Dharmadhikari is a storyteller and can’t wait to tell them on stage, on camera or in person