Sometimes in theatre, you just can’t sell tickets. It doesn’t matter if it’s a good show at a good price. There are days or even entire runs when the audience just doesn’t show up. But don’t worry. This isn’t a post about the sad state of theatre in America and the importance of preserving live theatre as a vital American art form. This is the story of Susan.
When I was living in Newport doing living history, we had a very special Christmas Program. There was a chance to see the house, and then we all convened in the ballroom for songs, dancing, and all sorts of audience participation shenanigans. There was an early season storm one afternoon, and we thought we were going to get to cancel the programs for the rest of the day. Yay adult snow day! But two minutes before we were going to ring the gong, thereby granting us all paid freedom to play in the snow, Susan came in the door.
Susan was in Newport by herself and had come to see the mansion. The rule was one ticket sold and the program goes, so we started her tour. I think it took Susan a few minutes to realize that she was the only guest in the mansion. We led her from room to room chatting in historical character about Mrs. Astor. Things were going fine until we got to the ballroom.
The first dance started, and the gentleman leading it had no choice. He walked up to Susan and asked her to dance, which she did in good spirits. Then we got to the games, and the actor leading that section said, “Susan, I know you love games. I’m sure you want to play!” Susan tried to look happy.
By Susan’s sixth time participating in our shenanigans, I firmly believe that she thought she might have died and slipped into some kind of hell. The hell populated by actors who keep loudly calling you into the spotlight.
When we finally released her, Susan practically ran for the door. Although, to her credit, she did say that she had had a lovely time on the way out.
Now whenever I’m performing to a small house, I think of Susan and remember her desperately trying to smile, tell myself it could be worse, and go on with the show.