Flying High, Down Under: Part 4: The Audience Effect

Tonight was our first audience at the Capitol Theater!  It was exciting to finally share our creation with the 1600 friends and family that attended our final dress rehearsal.  Before it started, the whole cast was buzzed, nervous, excited.  After the curtain came down at the end, I sang to our genie, Michael James Scott, “We can never go back to befoooooore!” a la Ahrens & Flaherty. Tonight we crossed over a threshold, giving away what was once our private creative space. It’s like spending 6 weeks making a fantastic cake, and then watching everyone enjoy it and eat it up.  But the process of making it ready, making it perfect… the anticipation phase… it’s done.

What changes in the show when there’s an audience?  It’s difficult to explain. Scientific studies have shown that someone’s observation of particles actually changes how they behaveand I would venture to say that the same is true for actors.  Even though we are focused on showing up with the same honesty and sincerity that we had rehearsed with (before over a thousand strangers were watching), something else has been layered into the mix. There’s now an added element of expectation and uncertainty, like jumping into a pool of water without knowing the temperature first.

How can we do our job onstage without being affected by all of those eyes? All of the reactions? Or the lack of reactions?  Is it even possible?

I don’t think so. And I don’t think that’s the goal.  You don’t want to act in a bubble, with an invisible concrete wall between you and the audience.  If you did, then how could they possibly feel your energy and your character’s experience through such an impenetrable barrier?  And the whole point is to take them on the journey with you.  Be fully present in the moment onstage, while also inviting them into it.

Maybe, in this way, acting onstage is different than acting on-camera.  I was told by a major TV casting director in NYC that I need to make the viewer feel like they are watching a private moment.  They need to believe that I don’t know they’re watching, as if they’ve gained access to a secret moment.  Michael Cane teaches this same notion: that if you’re rehearsing with another actor and someone can tell you’re rehearsing your lines, then it won’t work on camera. Instead, your rehearsal should sound like a real conversation if it were overheard by a stranger. Read more of his brilliant on-camera acting lessons here.

When acting for the camera, you definitely have to be connected to the other actors in the scene with you, but not necessarily to the audience (ie- the camera). Legendary film actor Eli Wallach supposedly blew up angrily at a film director who said something to him about the camera when he was in between takes on set. He didn’t want to think about the camera because it distracted him from being authentic, and just talking to his scene partner as if no one else was around. So perhaps maintaining a connection to (and awareness of) the audience is a task solely for theater actors.  And it’s one that you can only practice once the audience takes their seats, which is why Preview performances (which happen before a show’s official Opening Night) are so important.

The audience plays a vital role in the world of theater.  They are the guinea pigs, the testing ground, the ocean of miraculous transformation waiting to be transformed.  Like a baby who is taking in the world around her, and reacting to each and every smell, sight, smile from a stranger.  The audience is equally affected by every aspect of each performance, and our ability to transform them (like making a baby laugh) is the whole point of theater.  Without them, the beautiful cake that we baked for 6 weeks would sit perfectly untouched, uneaten, and unknown.  And what’s the point of creating something that doesn’t affect anyone else?  Creativity definitely has its purpose, and when it’s nurtured and expressed, it does help encourage individual growth and self-fulfillment.  But in my opinion, that approach for a career would be self-serving, and lead to a lonely existence.  As actors, we strive to make energetic waves that affect the audience. At the end of the movie Into the Wild, (spoiler alert) the main character learns that “Happiness is only real, when shared.” Similarly, I believe that theater is only meaningful, when shared. 

At the end of the song “A Whole New World,” Jasmine and Aladdin sing the words “Let me share this whole new world with you.”   Fortunately, from this day forth, the Australian cast of Aladdin will always have an audience to share with.  As the genie proclaims at the end of the show each night: “It looks like my work here is finally done.”  Audience transformed through shared experience = Mission accomplished.


About Arielle

I am a California-bred, NYC-based Broadway actress, singer, and artist. I love to take photos and write poems, read, travel to new places, and see inspiring movies. I love to eat delicious food, especially with loved ones. I’m interested in the human experience, how we grow, and what connects us all. I like when people walk around smiling. I aim to be one of them.

12 Responses

  1. Lauren

    Aloha Ariel! I hope you’re doing well! I love your blog so far! I wish I could see the show! Aladdin is my second favorite Disney film! Jasmine was the princess I learned the most from growing up. She taught me self confidence and to always question everything-especially to help others. I have a feeling you’re doing an awesome job! I agree with what you said re: audience’s reaction and letting them experience the journey with you. I’ve had that experience when I saw Mary Poppins the musical, as well as Annie and a few other theater productions. I wish you success in the show!

  2. B

    I discovered this blog after watching the youtube video of you and your brother singing as a surprise for your parents. You have become my newest inspiration to do, study, and embrace what you love. So I just wanted to say thank you for that. I wish you were doing the show in beautiful exotic Virginia instead of austrailia so I could see it!

    PS your version of “breathe” is like hearing the beatles for the first time surrounded by baby rabbits.


  3. Bem

    Yes! As an audience member, I am transformed, walking on air, singing with joy. Your art meets my hunger and transforms it into a fed, happy person. I rely on art to encourage, uplift. Your Light (collectively) meets my Light, and perhaps they both become brighter.

  4. Maria

    Hi Arielle! Thank you for letting us see Aladdin from your point of view! I just saw Adam on Broadway and I honestly think Aladdin is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen or heard… Seriously! It is a “feast” for the eyes and the ears, and it is just so happy, full of energy and color! I am obsessed! I am honored to have “tasted” the beautiful “cake” all of you prepared, and I really hope I get to see you as princess Jasmine someday!

  5. Trish Roa

    This is my favorite out of all your blog posts so far! My sister and I watched (and stage doored!) you during the August 5 preview, and you were incredible! Like I had told you that night, “if opening night is anything like tonight, y’all are gonna kill it!”

    Hope y’all make good on your wish for Aladdin to come to Manila someday, I’m certain that we’d all be thrilled (and very very proud!) to have you!

    Thanks for a magical preview night!

Leave a Reply