Half of a Fourth Wall

by Life Sucks. cast member William Bolz (Vanya)

I don't know how one would measure the amount of audience interaction in a play. The actors on stage are always hyper-aware of the audience as a whole, and often of individual spectators if they're making themselves known. (We hear EVERYTHING.) The audience is an integral part of any performance. So, for any given play, we may say that audience participation is around 95%. In Forward's recent production of Life Sucks, that number jumped up to pretty much 100%.* We didn't just break the fourth wall, we never built one. We only built about a half of one wall, actually, just enough to hang a calendar.

There was much discussion in rehearsal about how to deal with those moments of direct conversation with the audience. We planned for many possible responses, and no response at all. We should have known better. Our audience is always ready to be heard, and they did not disappoint in any way.

Many people asked if this was daunting to us actors. For myself, it was exciting. There was a time, though, I would not have been able to even consider dealing with it. I have recently taken improv classes and performed with a local improv group, so I was ready. I had to fight a desire to just spend several minutes doing crowd work. It's going to feel unusual the next time I do a regular kind of play. I'll want to keep checking in with the audience to see how they're doing and what they think.

I noticed something else interesting during the run. I had more interaction with patrons after the show than ever before. On the way out of the Overture, or even in the parking garage, people would often mention how they liked the show. There was no longer a divide between performer and spectator, we were all part of it together.

*These numbers, while entirely arbitrary and made-up, are accurate and meaningful. Thank you for attending my TED Talk.