The Last Player


Macbeth at the Bell Tower Theatre in Woonsocket

In the theatre, there is a last player that needs to be cast before the performance becomes a reality; the audience. The actors draw energy from them, their reactions (or lack thereof) can dictate the tenor of the performance and the efficacy of the show in general. 

Consider the goal of theatre. We perform to create a catharsis. To allow someone to express their emotions through the art. The culmination of this is the reactions of the audience. Their catharsis gives the final definition to the show. A professional company delivers the exact same performance at least eight times a week for the length of the run. Each show is a complete and near perfect copy of the last to the outside observer. However, when the last cast member, the final player enters the theatre, the show cannot help but change.

This collective body that is there to observe, feel, share common emotions, and experience humanity live and in three dimensions, will improvise throughout the performance. This improvisational reaction drives the cast members onstage. Laughter, for instance can occur where predicted, and more often than not, completely unexpectedly. This causes pausing and waiting for laughter to begin dying out before continuing. That immediately changes the pacing of the show. A skilled actor will never let on that they waited for the laughter to start arching down, but they will instinctively react to it and stay in character. Likewise, the energy of the audience in general will provide a sustained lift to the actors, and allow for fluidity or suck the momentum from the action if not present. 

I recently attended an immersive performance of King Lear by the Out Loud Theatre Company. In the black box space, seating was limited to 20 audience members. This group of actors delivered a performance that was not only intriguing and alive, but carried with it the ability to enrapture the viewer/participant. Audience members were truly participants, held complicit in the actions on the stage. I felt less a distant observer of the activity onstage, and more of a witness; active and responsible for my reactions. The director, Kira Hawkridge, a woman I had the honor of instructing and directing when she was 13 and again at 18 prior to her launch as a powerhouse of the avant garde in Providence’s theatre community, provided that ability to feel a different catharsis than I have felt since college.

My major at the Massachusetts College of Art (before they added “Design” to the name) was SIM. The Studio for Interrelated Media utilized some of these concepts. We concentrated on how to form art more as an experience that engages senses beyond the visual. Catharsis and the psychology behind it were our stock in trade. My work was primarily monologues, but I also created installation artwork, performance pieces that were more abstract focussing on sound and light, and other works that left audiences with less clarity of thought than when they arrived. My focus was always a cathartic experience for the audience. 

This concept is something I consider whenever directing or designing a theatrical performance. It is about the entire experience for all parties involved. Audiences enter a space and allow their emotions to run amuck  at the control of the actors on the stage. At least, that is the hope of the actors, technicians, and directors. Actors emote and enact making them  responsible for exhibiting and interpreting the author’s thoughts and director’s vision. Free and lifted, the feelings of the participants and viewers begin to meld utilizing the words of the playwright and how they are delivered by the actor(s), the sounds of the composition or sound designer, the aura of the lighting, and the visuals of the setting, and their ability to let go of their own control and submit to the delight of suspending disbeliefs. 

This last cast member, the unpredictable and most exciting player; the audience, is welcomed into any company. We theatre practitioners will follow the chief rule of all improvisation – acceptance. We accept you all into our houses, our homes, our sacred spaces where we impart knowledge, passions, laughter, horror, sorrow and joy. Please accept your roles joining our company and fulfilling the promise of our art. 

Go, experience, enjoy and be a part of the theatre. We need our last players. After all,

                                   “All the world’s a stage,

and all the men and women merely players;”

As You Like It  II.7-  William Shakespeare

Come, join the play.

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