Happy Guatamalan Independence Day!

You know you have a really great cast when even 3 hours of amplified Guatamalan music doesn’t throw them off their game!
Yesterday was our very first “Senion Sunday” matinee performance for our production of Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman. As I sat sipping coffee Sunday morning at around 12:00 noon, my phone rang. It was Marion Rossi, who plays Willy Loman, asking “Did you know about the wedding?” “What wedding?” I replied. “The wedding being held in the parking lot behind the theatre, right beside the stage door?”

I hung up, grabbed my coffee, and rushed to the theatre.

Thankfully, Marion was wrong. It wasn’t a wedding. Tragically, it was something even worse (for us, obviously…I mean, we are all really happy that Guatamalans gained their independence!): A Guatamalan Independence Day celebration with about 200 chairs, a closed parking lot, ballons in the colors of the Guatamalan flag, and a very large stage with very large speaker stands.

This was at about 12:30 and our matinee started at 2:00.

A brief discussion with the organizers of the event made it clear: we were going to be listening to music throughout the show. No question. Not an option to turn off the sound. No way.

Enter Denzil Scheller, owner of the Venetian, who rushed over to his nearby shop and literally ripped sound insulation out of the walls and handed the strips of padding to Rachel, our stage manager, who, with gaff tape in hand, began to completely enclose the stage doors.

Even though we stuffed every available bit of fabric and insulation we could find into the stage door area, we could still hear the music, and the announcements, and the applause, coming through the door. I think it was fair to say that the actors were “concerned” about how the noise would impact the quality of their performances and the expeirence of the audience, but we didn’t have any choice…we had to roll the dice and see what happened. We went ahead with the show, and made an announcement that if anyone was having a hard time hearing the show, or if they wanted to come to a different performance, we would happily refund or exchange their tickets.

At intermission (after an hour of tearing what is left of my hair out), not a single person complained. No one left. Not one person asked for a refund. Not. One.

In fact, one of our audience members said, “It makes it even more realistic! I lived in Brooklyn, and there is constant noise, all the time! It made it feel like home!”

Someone else said, “The acting is so great, so strong, I completely forgot that there was any other sound. The actors are forcing us to watch and listen to them.”

At one particularly touching, quiet moment in the play, when Willy tells Charley that “you are my only friend…” the delicate sounds of “La la la la la bomba…” drifted through the doors! Almost on cue!

Not a single actor seemed impacted by the noise, and not a single audience member was upset.

It is something that I learned while directing for Glasgow Rep: if the audience sees the actors truly struggling (through rain, mud, mosquitoes, or 110 degree heat, which never happened in Glasgow but did happen this last summer in Hillsboro during R&J!), there is an immediate sense of connection and compassion created in the audience. It becomes a shared struggle, a shared journey, and can help to create bonds of closeness and intimacy between cast and audience that a “perfect” show never can.

On Sunday afternoon, a group of 10 actors worked their asses off, performing one of the hardest and most emotionally draining plays ever written, for an audience of incredibly appreciative and remarkably patient supporters.

The actors not only performed well, they performed brilliantly. The audience was moved not only by skill and talent, but by the sheer tenacity of the performers. Together, we worked through a difficult play, in less than ideal circumstances, and came out the end with a performance of unique power and grace.

Happy Independence Day, Guatalama! Thank you!