The lights are bright, the applause is deafening, and as I’m taking a bow, I am finally able to smile naturally as myself and not a character.
I rush offstage, hurry into the dressing room and undress and redress as quickly as I can. Because tonight, a rarity has occurred. Tonight, people came to see a show specifically for me. My excitement to see my friends is tangible as I leap over changing actors and out the door, completely ignoring the fact that I am still not wearing shoes.
I slow to an acceptable pace as I move towards the crowd waiting outside the theatre. I scan faces. I try not to look too expectant. I wade through people until I reach the end of the clump. I realize that the faces I was so eagerly waiting to see are not there.
I take out my phone and frantically text them: Where are you guys???
Four minutes later I received a reply:
We were there I promise! But we had to slip out early
But wait did you see the end?
No we had to leave before 😦
I talk to other members of the audience I recognize.
I try to hid my embarrassment.
I go home. Silently and by myself.
They see me soon after and I learn the reason they left early was to meet other friends on the other side of campus. Something they ended up not doing anyway.
They congratulate me heartily saying what a good job I did and offer love and encouragement.
I try to accept it as graciously as I can but I soon retreat to my room and try not to think about it.
Which brings me here. Still processing. Still going over in my head the right and wrong and the acceptable and unacceptable.
I understand emergencies. I understand things that cannot be missed. I understand necessary reasons to remove yourself from a show in the middle of a performance.
As a theatre-maker I also operate under the assumption that a show is a commitment. By walking in those doors and sitting down, an audience member is accepting a contract. One that states they will give their full attention to the art in front of them for a temporary time.
And I don’t think that is asking much. At all.
On a personal level, I have learned that I would rather someone not come see my show, then to see part of it and leave because of a social engagement. It showed me a lack of interest, a lack of respect and a dismissal of the performance as a whole. And on that same personal note, it hurt. Badly. If I had been warned or notified of a previous arrangement that could not be moved, maybe this would be a different conversation.
But for any young or inexperienced audiences members out there:
Do not leave a show in the middle of performance unless it is an emergency.
It is disrespectful. It is rude. It is unacceptable.
Just don’t do it.