Want to know why actors go insane?
Last night, the audience -- about 2/3 full -- was the quietest we've had since arriving in the city. They were watching Jim as if studying him for an exam. The usual funny lines got laughs, but they were subdued.
And, contrasted with the night before, where the house was rocking with laughter as if attending a vaudeville, it was about as disconcerting as it gets. This is why live theater can be so maddening.
As a performer on stage, you can't read the audience's mind. All you can do is feel them. Or try to.
Watching Jim, I could tell he began working just a little harder. All actors do it, especially at the beginning of a run where you don't quite know what to expect. Quiet audiences tend to bring up a little panic inside. Are they hating it? Are they bored? What if I push this line here? Or make a bigger gesture there? (Jim told me afterwards that about halfway through act one, he gave up and just decided to trust the material. He knows he should do this anyway, but he's also the playwright, so the wheels are turning inside his head all the time, reassessing what's there.)
Anyway, eventually he gave up trying to "entertain" and just played the show the way he knows to play the show. The audience response stayed relatively the same.
Until the end.
At the black-out, it was like a bomb was set off.
The audience literally exploded. Shouts and hurrahs! Curtain calls. BIGGER than the night before, where they seemed like they were on a thrill ride.
People stayed after the show and practically mobbed him with praise and picture taking.
Afterwards, when we talked about the night, he said, "I've never been so surprised in my whole life. Was this the same audience? They exploded!"
Yeah, they did. But that's what happens when people are so into something. They don't really want to break the trance with laughter. They're beyond it. They're involved. They studying it. They intensely connected.
And that's why actors (and singers and jugglers and magicians) go insane. Because audiences make us insane.