Engaged to an Audience

May 24, 2017

This week we're talking with resident company member Heather Pattengale, who's currently on stage in 'The Skin of Our Teeth' as the silly and sassy house-servant, Sabina. Her character regularly breaks out of the story to dish with the audience, disagree with the playwright, or fight for her right to perform on her own terms.

So what's it like to look the audience in the eye when you're in the middle of navigating the show?

Interacting with the audience is one of the scariest - and therefore most exciting - parts of the show for me. The audience may not know it, but in those moments when I speak directly to them, each one of them are my scene partner... I'm depending on them, looking to see if they understand what I'm saying, if they're on my side, or if they think I'm just nuts.

Does this "scene partner" drastically change from show to show?

Depending on how an audience reacts and responds to my addresses, I get a sense of what kind of show it is going to be. That is to say - it does not affect my lines much; my lines are set out for me by the playwright and there is no improvisation in this show. But it may affect how I deliver them. And, just like in [any] show, how an audience reacts certainly does affect how deeply the story is going to land: for them, for me, and how much energy there is in the room to play with and springboard off of.

Is it exhausting or exhilarating, riding that tightrope of not knowing quite what to expect?

As performers we of course pour everything we have into each performance. But something magical happens when the audience meets us there, when they not only receive everything we're pouring out, but respond generously in kind. The energy become exponential, much more than anything we can manufacture on our own. And it is in that interplay that real life happens. The audience becomes improvisors because they are invested in what's happening too, and respond honestly and openly: sometimes by listening so intently you could hear a pin drop, sometimes by laughing or scoffing or gasping or groaning or even proclaiming!

Heather Pattengale talks shop with spectators as in Rosebud Theatre's The Skin of Our Teeth. Photo by Morris Ertman.

Do people ever interact with you while you're on stage?

I have been on stage when members of the audience unexpectedly shout out "No!" or "Yes!" and let me tell you, it's the best, because it means they are along for the ride and care about the outcome of the story and can't help but reach out to the characters.

The story alone is a wild ride of cataclysmic catastrophes. Do you think "breaking the fourth wall", (when actors break out of the story to engage with the audience directly), adds to the adventure?

I want audiences to feel that they can climb into the story too; that there is a place for them inside it, because there is! And that is true of every show that happens in live theatre. Depending on the specific audience and their reaction, sometimes it takes flight in surprising and life-giving ways, and sometimes less so. But it is different every time. So I hope people come and see this show more than once, because it's never the same thing twice.

Engaged to an Audience

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