Pre-previews and the holy book of dramaturgy

We’re gearing up for tech over here at Florida Studio Theater. One of the unique aspects of this particular rehearsal process is that before the cast moves into the theater, FST invites some patrons in to watch a series of rehearsal runs. It is a bit of a nerve wracking situation— performing for an audience without many of the production elements or the full rehearsal process under our belts. But it has also been tremendously informative and is allowing us to (hopefully) refine the story telling and the precision of the comedy before we add the other technical elements. A kind of pre-previews.

In reading some selections from Bharata’s Natyasatra—the Indian holy book of dramaturgy—I came across a really delightful passage concerning audience reaction. He goes well beyond Aristotle’s “pity and fear” in his discussion of what a successful production will elicit in the audience:

[Human success] depends on various factors, physical and verbal. Success is indicated vocally by a gentle smile, smile, loud laughter, remarks or exclamations like “good,” “wonderful,” “alas,” loud applause, etc. When actors create humor by a double entendre, spectators should receive it with a gentle smile. […] When the humor, or the words suggesting it are not clear, then the audience should just part its lips in a half-smile. Humor produced by the pranks of the jester or by some other artifice should be received with loud laughter. Any act of virtue done in an excellent way should be received by exclamations of “good.” Similarly, when surprised or greatly pleased, one naturally exclaims, “how wonderful.” But for pathetic things or acts, the audience should exclaim “Alas!” When there is something astonishing, it should be received by vociferous applause. At words of condemnation, or when the actor acts a “thrill,” i.e., his hair standing on end, or when there are retorts and replies making one curious, the audience should applaud. At brilliant passages in the play or when there are scenes of cutting or breaking or fighting or some such commotion, the audience should applaud by rising from their seats and with tears of appreciation. (93-94)*

I just love how specific he is in his documentation and instruction. And aren’t you amazed by this actor who can make his hair stand on end? Is that something I should have learned in drama school?

If only our audiences had read their Bharata, surely then they would know what to do.

*Selections from Theatre/Theory/Theatre, edited by Daniel Gerould.

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