Arkansas Schools Tour 2011 - The Poe Show
Caden: While on stage, especially in this show, it’s difficult to ignore an audience. Several hundred eyes staring at you tend to leave a strong impression. Since we interact and speak directly to the audience for much of the show, the way they react to each show is often a topic of conversation in "the Raven" (the gray Chrysler Town and Country we're driving while on tour). Here are some thoughts on the audiences we’ve come across:
The schools that were prepped on Poe beforehand tended to understand more of the humor in the show. Aside from the big physical numbers (the interpretive dance and the Rasputin-like murder scene in “The Tell-Tale Heart”), our one-liners and creative license we’ve taken with some stories resound much more in the Poe-prepped schools. As one whom values instant gratification, laughter is very important to me—especially in a comedy.
The unprepared (un-Poe-pared? That’s not funny.) schools, then, seemed as if they weren’t into the show or didn’t get the humor, and I—needing validation right then and there—felt that I wasn’t doing enough or that the show somehow wasn’t working. Morgan, our director, reassured us though: the high schoolers were hunched forward in their seats, chins propped on their hands, actively listening and responding to the latter half of the show (the more educational portion of “The Poe Show”). She may have said this to preserve our sometimes swelling egos but hearing the students repeat lines from the show (especially from the second half) after curtain call helps me sleep better at night.
Benton County School of the Arts was a blessing halfway through this week, because they were (a) prepped on Poe and enjoyed his work and (b) art and theatre students; it was like playing to the theater crowd at the university, who always are more vocal and energetic, which always fuels a performer. I believe all of the jokes landed, even ones that we had thought were funny that hadn’t landed on any other audience. Nothing invigorates me more than when an audience is completely in sync with the show.
And then we come to the rowdy crowds. Now this isn’t the kind of show where one of us will pull a Patti LuPone on a lone wisecracker: again, we often interact with the audience directly, going so far as bringing a student onstage. Because of the way the show is written, winning over the audience becomes, at times, the game of the scene we’re performing. The louder and more raucous they are, the bigger responses we receive from them when they take our side (or not). This (for me, at least) fuels the performance, and dealing with hecklers or superfans always keeps the show fresh and exciting. I think some of our best performances came from these high schools because we had to work so hard to win them over. They may not have understood all the jokes, but they were rolling during the big numbers, and if they learned something from the show, that’s pretty cool too.
Another reason I’ve enjoyed the rowdy crowds is my entrance. I don’t know who’s idea it was (between Morgan, Jordan Haynes, and Kris Stoker), but my entrance as Poe is the best I’ve had on stage. Sitting in the back of the theater, I stand up in a huff and disrupt the proceedings onstage. The rowdy kids (most of the kids actually) simultaneously gasp, and a few have even stopped us for an ovation after my first line. With an entrance like that, I don’t have to work too hard.