I’ve always had interest in the theatre and thought I wanted to be an actor, but performing can be stressful and I suck at memorizing lines. Because I love pretty much all sides of theatre, from costumes to sets to writing to acting, I became a dramaturg.
Most people think that dramaturgs are the ones that hide behind books and paperwork, and only peek into the daylight to give a short rehearsal presentation or sneak in a lobby display, but dramaturgs are so much more than that. One of the great things about being a dramaturg is that you really get to be your own dramaturg. If sitting in the back of the theatre is your thing, then go for it. If being in on the action is your thing, there’s times for that too. Though I treasure research and academia and all that goes with it, I’m a social animal and when I want to, I can be outgoing and engaging.
Those skills come in handy when leading a talkback, especially the one I led tonight after Richard III.
I went to the show tonight with five friends. We all sat together in the front row and watched what was, obviously, a fabulous show. Then afterwards, I got to put on my dramaturg hat and lead the talkback with the director and the cast. I’m super awkward in real life, like a good deal of people, but my inner performer really comes out when leading talkbacks. I like to think of myself as a host, kind of like Oprah, Ellen, Sally Jessy, Steve Harvey, Ricki Lake, Wendy Williams, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien all wrapped up into one. That would actually be an awesome combination, and slightly scary. While the cast was changing out of costume, I engaged the director in an open conversation, and the cast filtered in for about three or four moderated questions from the audience and a final “button question” from me (what was the most enjoyable part of the experience? what was fun?) to seal the deal. Basically, it’s like I get to have my own talk show.
Even though I try not to judge myself, I inevitably do after each time I moderate a talkback. Like any good performer, I take stock in what I do and usually find myself giving myself both praise and criticism. This time around, it was no different. On the good side, I remembered to get dressed up for the show; I don’t quite have a uniform, but in my black jacket, black pants, teal Oxford shirt, and a touch of makeup, I thought I looked pretty jazzy tonight. I started on kind of an awkward note, as I thought that the director would announce the talkback, and then he gestured to me to start by the time people started getting up and leaving, which they would’ve done anyway, but I might’ve been a few seconds too late. Plus, I was kinda caught on my phone/keys/wallet and I didn’t want to walk onstage with that kind of entourage. Since it was my first time doing a talkback in this space, I also might not have been loud enough in my announcement, but out of about 100 audience members, 20-30 stayed, which was not bad. Also, the actors didn’t stay onstage, nor were they able to change quickly, so it actually was the Jacob Show for a few minutes.
I started to get a little nervous as the crowd started to leave, but then the director joined me onstage. I introduced him to some applause (yes!) and then we sat down and I asked him a few questions while the cast was getting ready. I made them pretty open-ended and general, because I definitely wanted him to take the spotlight and say what was on his mind, rather than talk about the show myself. I do not come from the Jeff Probst school of event-hosting. After a few minutes, the cast started filtering in, so I did the “go-around-and-introduce-yourselves” thing, and then another round of applause. After this, I opened the floor up for questions, which ended up being a little awkward since some of the characters with more extensive costume/makeup started filtering in, so we needed to pause every so often so I could welcome/introduce the new arrivals. I almost made a booboo when I didn’t see someone in the corner of the audience, and the cast pointed him out for me to call on – hey that’s my job! – but granted, he must’ve raised his hand after I looked away, and I managed to officially call on him after a momentary twirl to get things back on track. I like it when the whole cast gets to speak, but due to the time and the gigantic cast, a few people didn’t get to say anything; one of the larger-cast shows that I led the talkback for was A Streetcar Named Desire at Spotlighters in Baltimore, and I predicted that most of the audience’s questions would be directed towards Blanche/Stella/Stanley, so I made sure to jump in at a brief lull and ask Negro Woman and Mexican Woman to give us their take on being citizens of Tennessee Williams’s New Orleans, which hit the dominoes for the rest of the chorus to speak, which is something I strive for – to make everyone feel special.
For some reason, I have a pretty good sense of time when it comes to these things, and I cut it off at just the right moment, after my button question, with no awkward lulls along the way and concluded by thanking the audience, cast, director, and everyone everywhere. Ending is never fun and this was not one of my best attempts; I hate getting all thank-y, but at least the audience left happy and the actors seemed to be pleased to continue on with their night. Of all my friends, only Kelly stayed throughout the whole thing, and I’m really happy she did. She mostly stayed because she was watching my keys/phone/wallet, but since she did, I introduced her to the director and to Richard himself, to whom she was ecstatic. Combine that with a front row seat and an escorted walk back to her dorm and that’s a red-carpet, VIP experience all for the price of $16.00.
Oh, and one more thing that happened, which was kind of unexpected: when an audience member asked about how the actors learned about Richard and Shakespeare and all the history, one of the actresses pointed me out and thanked me publicly with a “we’re not worthy”, which some of the actors echoed. The director chimed in that I did a good job, and led a brief round of applause for me while I gave an “aw-shucks” face, with a slight bow to the cast and to the audience. That’s never happened before.
I always leave a talkback feeling exhilarated, like I did a performance myself, walking offstage with a beaming smile and a bit of graceful spring in my step. It’s like magic. Yay for dramaturgy!
So..hey NBC, can I have my own talk show? I’ll dress up for it and everything; I’d like late-night and afternoon, but I could be coerced into primetime, or even a hangover slot…will you think about it? Give me a call…please?