Enter DUKE ORSINO, CURIO, and other Lords; Musicians attending.
If music be the food of love, play on...--and I'd play this.
Somewhere in the middle of the piece, and it varied night to night, Orsino barked:
Enough; no more: 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before...
And I'd stop.
I remembered this as I was playing the piece the other night, and remembering my stint in 12th Night always brings to mind the big lesson learned in the play.
Let's put aside "Shakespeare's language" for a minute, because it is undeniable that much of the humor in 12th Night will work for an individual if he or she has read the play closely, seen it before, or is familiar with Shakespeare's style, vocabulary, themes, etc. Okay, with that aside, there are still many moments, when performed, that speak to a 20th Century audience (and it was the 20th Century when I was in the play). There are many opportunities for slapstick and a few parts (Malvolio, Toby Belch, Andrew Aguecheek, and Feste) can be played broadly and bawdily. And so it was with this production.
But what struck me, from my vantage point on stage and backstage, was how a certain joke or gag would bring down the house one night, and the next night it would fall flat. This was eye-opening and mysterious.
The lesson learned? Audiences are unpredictable. Consider this: Jack Lemmon reported that people walked out of the first preview screening of Some Like It Hot. Everyone panicked but director Billy Wilder. He didn't change a thing in the film, screened it the following night to a different audience in a different part of Los Angeles, and they couldn't stop laughing.
So what's this filmmaker to do when he wants every frame, every word, every sound to communicate something specific to the audience? All I can come up with is, "trust your gut."
So performing artists, I know you've experienced this. What do you make of it?
[Cross-posted on the A Life's Work blog]