Marissa Skudlarek better be prepared for all the drinks she’s going to be buying.
I love going to see my friends in plays, but I kind of dread the post-show moment when the actors file out of the stage door and I have to think of what to say to them.
Admittedly, I put some undue pressure on myself in this situation. I feel that, because I’m a playwright and a blogger, I should be able to say something more eloquent or meaningful than the usual cliches of congratulations or good job or you were great! Then, too, I believe that words like amazing and awesome and powerful ought to be used sparingly, and only when the occasion really warrants. I see a lot of theater that I have mixed-to-positive emotions about. I don’t see a lot of theater that truly amazes me, or awes me, or stirs up strange and unnameable feelings in my soul.
Furthermore, we’ve all seen innumerable rants about how “theater critics don’t do their job these days — they issue thumbs-up or thumbs-down recommendations, they pretend that they are in the business of telling people whether to go see a show or not, when really they should be in the business of criticism — pondering, analyzing, and elucidating the deeper meanings of a work of art.” But after we perform in a show, what do we all want from our friends? The biggest, most enthusiastic thumbs-up that they can possibly give. After a show, my friends don’t want to hear me talk like a theater critic: “I am wondering about the choice the playwright made to give that big monologue to Yolanda in the middle of Act II, and I’m still deciding how I feel about that, and how that affects the overall meaning of the show.” They want to hear “I loved Yolanda’s monologue and you knocked it out of the park!”
Here are some other solutions I’ve tried to the dilemma of what to say to friends after a show.
You looked like you were having so much fun up there! Oh, man. I used to say this one a lot, when I was in high school. Because they were my friends, and we were all theater geeks, and they did look like they were having fun up there! Later on, I learned that this phrase is always interpreted as a backhanded compliment. The point of acting isn’t to have fun up there, especially when you consider how many of the great roles require an actor to explore the darker and more tragic sides of life. To say “you looked like you were having fun up there” is tantamount to saying “you are a distracting, hammy performer. You didn’t disappear into the character. I saw you up there; I didn’t see Blanche DuBois.”
I really loved the moment when you… I’m working on adding this phrase, or variants thereof, into the repertoire of things I say to actors after a show. I mean, isn’t one of my goals to be more specific and meaningful with my compliments, rather than falling into generic gushiness? However, there are two problems with this approach. One, it requires me to take mental notes as I watch the show — “Ooh, that was a nice reaction from Emmeline there. I’ll have to tell her that when I see her at the stage door” — and making these mental notes can distract me from the actual play. Two, I worry that if I tell Emmeline I loved a certain moment in her performance, she’ll get self-conscious when that moment comes up again in the next evening’s show. “Marissa told me she loved my reaction here, and I don’t even know what I did last night to make it so good… can I repeat that tonight?”
Can I buy you a drink? Honestly, this might be the best all-purpose phrase to use. It works well after you’ve seen a wonderful play and you want to buy all of the actors drinks in order to congratulate them on a job well done. It also works well if the show had an off night, or if your actor friend is anxious and upset. A drink will calm their nerves, while you sit with them, listen to their complaints, and offer reassurance. If the show is terrible and you and the actor both know it, mocking the script and making fun of the direction is even more enjoyable with a drink in your hand. A longer conversation over drinks, rather than a rushed “congratulations!” in a theater hallway, also enables you to have a more substantive conversation about the show, revealing your deeper thoughts and feelings, rather than doing that thumbs-up thumbs-down thing that we all so deplore.
Now, what does it mean that, after a show, alcohol speaks more eloquently than words?
Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She is producing her play “Pleiades” this August and she hopes that some of you will buy her drinks after the show. For more, visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.