Actors do in fact sometimes sit in the audience. Granted, I haven't done much of that over the last several years, and when I have done it, it's usually in the exact same venues in which I perform. (Which can be a distraction sometimes, if you get to a pivotal moment in a performance and find yourself wondering if they've fixed that wobbly part of the stage as a friend of mine makes his entrance.)
But whether in my local playhouse or in major professional venues, I enjoy being in the audience, when I can shut out my inner actor and just watch. When I do, and it's a quality performance, I remember why I choose to act in the first place; the imprint a show leaves on those in the seats.
I came across this piece last week, in which the author asks about the ideal date to take to see a show. I hadn't thought much about it. I have been since I read it though. My natural inclination is to see theatre by myself, to be frank. That way I can absorb the experience and interpret what is going on, letting it wash over or pour into me without impediment, in whatever fashion I choose. I can even get up and leave if it comes to that. (It hasn't yet.) The author of the piece is of a similar mind, as she points out in a previous article she wrote years ago about seeing shows alone. That piece is linked within this one, so I'd suggest reading both.
But for the sake of the subject, and the question posed by the article, I'll speculate on what my ideal theatre date would be like. For the purposes of this question, let's suppose this isn't limited to a romantic date, per se. (The author placed no such limitation on her question.)
First and foremost, somebody who would be talking the whole time, or even at key moments is out. The rudeness factor aside, I can't connect with what I'm watching as fully as I'd like if I have to allocate energy to responding to my companion's question or observation. It's too rude for me not to, but I'm there to see a play and I can't do that if I'm diverting energy to what a companion is saying. If there must be commentary, it needs to be brief, declarative as opposed to interrogatory, and should happen during some break in the action. Sustained applause or laughter, or during a scene change black out.
I also prefer to be with someone who either already does, or is willing to enjoy the show for its own sake. I think that friendships and certainly romances are built upon sacrifice and accommodation of the other's needs and desires from time to time, but I don't want the theatre involved in all of that. I don't want someone I am with to come with me to a show just to make me happy, or to do me a favor. Nor do I want them doing, as so many parents on Christmas Morning, getting most of their joy out of seeing my joy. I feel like I have to be "on" when a companion feels that way, and if the production isn't good, I don't feel as free to respond accordingly.
That doesn't mean I'll only go to a show with someone who is as much into theatre as I am. I'd go with a novice, or someone that rarely goes. So long as on that day, for that show in that place they are excited about being there.
I also don't enjoy seeing theatre with someone who has already seen the show, or at least that production of the show. If someone has already seen Hamlet, that's fine, but if they've seen this production already, I won't enjoy seeing it with them. True, live theatre is a little different every night, but not different enough to feel as though both I and my companion are discovering the show at the same time. I'm the same with movies; if I haven't seen a movie yet, I dislike going to see it with someone that already has. It takes away from the experience. Especially if it's a lesser known play or a new play.
Finally, as much as I want quiet during the show, I want to be able to converse about the play afterward with a companion. There are so many things that go into seeing a show with someone else that if I do so, and they have nothing to say about the show on the way home, or at drinks after the fact, I feel I would be better off having seen it alone. This isn't to say they have to like the play, but if they aren't willing to talk about why they didn't like it, or why they did like it, or who they thought was the strongest performance, that sort of thing, it's quite the let down for me. "I liked it," or "I didn't like it," don't work for me as a post mortem. Be eager to talk about the show, or let me see it alone.
There are a few minor characteristic of the ideal theatre date that i won't mention here, because I think those mentioned above are most important. The other things are preferences at best. If not met, i could still enjoy the experience. But if any of the above concepts are lacking it will take away from my theatre experience. I'd rather see shows alone than with people who don't meet these qualifications.
What about you? What makes a good audience companion at the theatre?