Laughs are not Just Laughs During Live Performances

August 18, 2005

Theatre is a live art form, one in which the audience is in communion with the actors on stage.  There is an intimacy, a rapport, an energy that is felt between the actors and their audience.  Each night the actors respond to that energy and it helps drive their performance.  I experience this exchange every night at the Players.  The energy levels differ, the play changes in a subtle, but yet distinct way.  I can’t describe in detail the changes from night to night, but I sense and feel them.

The most vivid picture I can paint is the expression of laughter.  Sometimes it comes in waves.  One section of the house gets the joke, then another two rows figure out the gag, then another, and another until the entire house is rolling with laughter.  Other times it comes in bursts – quick, sudden response of 400 plus peoples laughing as one.

Then there is the cycle – the audience twitters, the actor holds for the pause – and in effect entices more laughter from the audience – which in turn causes the actor to hold even longer, etc…

The pity laughs are the slight guffaws from a handful of audience members acknowledging a bad joke.  And there is tense laughter, when a situation occurs and the audience is not sure how to respond – so they laugh.

This past week all of the above occurred during “Tom, Dick and Harry.”  Ray and Michael Cooney’s script and our actors’ interpretation have audiences rolling in the aisles – and even an actor off the stage.

In live theater anything can happen at anytime, and one evening this past week Carmen Roman tripped and fell off the stage during curtain call.  The audience gasped, a very kind gentleman was immediately at her side to assist her.  Thank you, Sir.  She stood and laughed and the audience laughed with her.  In this case laughter healed.

As I listen to the laughter I wonder how many other humorous and goofy things have happened on this stage in the past 70 years to make our audiences laugh (or our actors).  Within the past decade I’ve experienced the high energy peals of laughter our perennial performers Greg Vinkler, Bob Thompson, Tom Mula, David New, Amy McKenzie, Joe Foust, William J. Norris, to name just a few, can wring from an audience.  I’ve also witnessed the frenzied chaos our newer company members, Kevin McKillip, Patrick New, James Leaming, Carmen Roman, Cassandra Bissell and Karen Janes Wodtisch can deliver.

Laughter rings in the rehearsal hall these days too as our final show of the 2005 season goes through its paces.  Kevin McKillip, Joe Foust, Patrick New, Jonathan Weir and James Leaming are having a fun time working with Jeff Daniels’ comedy, “Escanaba in Da Moonlight.”  Daniels was raised in Michigan and uses Escanaba as a setting for his hilarious fantasy hunting tale of the “Buckless Yooper’s” escapades to break his buckless curse.   I don’t recall deer camp being this much fun, and I grew up in Northern Minnesota where we got days off of school to go deer hunting.

One can still catch “Tom, Dick and Harry” through August 21 then “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” will open August 24.  You can visit our website at or phone the box office at 920-868-3287.  Perhaps I’ll see you by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!