When I was a kid, Mom took me to see my very first live play at Karamu House in Cleveland. I don’t remember the name of the play, but it had something to do with talking animals in Africa and a young herdsman. What I remember is that it was so bright and so right there and so very much fun. When we yelled or squealed at the action on stage, sometimes the herdsman turned to the audience and let us know he knew we were there, before turning back into the world he was living for us on the stage. That sort of thing never happened when watching movies or television. Ever.
That’s how I got hooked on going to live theater. I am in your audiences whenever I can afford it. I don’t care if you’re a giant operation with an endowment, a community outlet few have ever heard of, or students learning the craft. If you’re doing a play that sounds like something I want to see, and I can get there, and I have money to be there, I am there. I actually read all of the teeny-print summaries in the paper hunting for things to see – and yes, I will often go see things the teeny-print summaries warn me away from seeing just because the story sounds interesting.
There’s nothing like the in-your-face reality of live theater. Watching the sweat form, wondering if they can see us sitting here, feeling the emotional roil of fellow audience as the energy loop between Us and You fires up.Â I know how to write for the page, which is awesome, but it’s a little cooler than what happens when live and in person. Yes, there is a distance of sort on the page that is not comparable to what happens when those words start walking around and talking in front of people who have paid to sit there and experience the story.
At some point I realized I wanted to be something other than audience at least once in life before it’s all over, just to see what it’s like, but I felt I had no qualifications to try. My professional path took me in a different direction, and, frankly, edging up on full thoughts about how to do what live stage people do was terrifying. But I wanted to try.
The open approach of the inaugural Hollywood Fringe Festival provided the opportunity. By the time those people showed up in 2010, the whole “live storytelling” thing, driven by in no small part by the expansion of the Moth out of NYC, had come into public consciousness within some circles. I realized that while I’m not an actress (and don’t want to be), and I technically have no actual theater qualifications (and have no plans to obtain any kind of degree in that), I already had extensive experience telling stories. For the bulk of my career as a reporter I had to tell other people’s stories on deadline; what I needed to learn was how to tell a story for the stage instead of the page. I found someone to teach me how to do that, and, in going out to test the waters, I discovered an entire population of folks willing to provide support, guidance and advice.
I also discovered that I like being on a stage and doing this, despite the terror, the throwing up, the not being able to eat on performance days. Now that I’ve begun to explore the nitty-gritty of what live performance means, I’m starting to see the bigger picture issues visible only from the non-audience side — cost of production, getting butts in seats, finding your audience, the thrill of directly entertaining others.
It’s a fascinating hands-on learning experience. I can’t wait to learn more. Turns out it’s like sitting there in the Karamu House audience forever ago. It’s fun. Being on this side – despite all of the WTF involved – is fun.
I don’t know what will happen. I just know that I. Can’t. Wait.
!Death 40-Feet Tall! is a visiting production at the ComedySportz Theater, 733 Seward St., Los Angeles. Remaining showtimes: 9 p.m. June 21, 24; 5 p.m. June 22; 3 p.m. June 25; 1 p.m. June 26. Tickets: $10, or pay-what-you-can, available at HollywoodFringe.org, or at the ComedySportz box office.
Pam Noles is a former cop reporter and features columnist. Her non-fiction has appeared in outlets including the Los Angeles Times, the Tampa Tribune, Vibe magazine and the Infinite Matrix. A graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, her fiction has appeared in anthologies from Warner Books, Dark Horse Comics, Terra Major, Pulphouse and various APAs.