As an audience member, you enter a silent agreement when you choose the front row as your vantage point for the evening. Know this: actors are hyper aware of you people. The following is a list of things for you to be aware of too…
by Matthew Raudsepp of Matt & Kyle & Matt
1. Folding chairs
The magic of Theatre is that when there’s an over capacity crowd, folding chairs instantly appear out of nowhere! If you’re one of the lucky people to be attending a sold out show you might get even luckier still: you could end up sitting in the front row on a horrible folding chair! So: do not sit in the front row, unless folding chairs really “do it” for you. Arrive early if you have any love for your lower back (your lower back loves you, it simply doesn’t say it enough).
2. “My neck, my neck, my kingdom for an airplane cushion”
Arrive early if you have any love for your neck. Large theatres with a raised stage can inspire the level of neck tilting otherwise only found at mega-size movie theatres. Sure, a lot of theatregoers practice Yoga (or at least star gazing), but you need to realize that watching a play from the front row is tantamount to holding cobra pose for two hours (doable? I don’t know. I don’t do Yoga, but, “holding a cobra” sounds really dangerous to me). So: do not sit in the front row, unless you have had a couple of vertebrae removed, and brought an airplane cushion.
3. The trip down memory lane
Turns out actors use the three inches of space between your front row knees and the edge of the stage during a performance. I’ve been in shows where sword fights occur right in audience members’ laps (blades tickling a patron’s whiskers, whiskers tickling the floor). I was once in a production of Romeo and Juliet where I strangled Paris between a pair of front row sandals (nary a toe didst flinch on the owner’s leather bound foot – peradventure he had fallen asleep). I believe we got away with it because people who sit in the front row are fearless (or narcoleptics). They have to be able to endure the Pit and the Pendulum of close-quarters, front row theatre. So: do not sit in the front row, unless you enjoy the thrill of actors tripping over your outstretched legs (I find most actors will nimbly hop over the obstacle – however, it’s the small percentage of them that fall flat on their faces that keeps me coming back to row AA).
No brainer. A tragedy on stage equals a tragedy of blood stained dinner jackets and gowns in the front row, ready to be sent off to the dry cleaners in the morning. That’s why I almost always wear a rain poncho to shows. Nothing inspires confidence in your performers more than seeing your willingness to get dirty with them. They’ll go that extra mile on stage not having to worry about where their tight diction’s offshoot (read: spit) will land. So: do not sit in the front row, unless you’re already wet from a rainy day (then, point your umbrella forward and protect your eyes from Oedipal blood spurts).
That silent agreement really comes full circle by the end of the show. You chose to infringe on the actor’s space, now s/he expects you to lock eyes with them at curtain call and applaud his or her triumphant turn as “the actor that was in my face the whole show”. Yes, you have to make sure they connect with you during their bow so that they can smile at you and prove to you that they’re just actors, and that the intense performance that happened inside your skull, still ringing in your ears, was just pretend and had nothing to do with you, the audience member they ostensibly yelled at. So: do not sit in the front row, unless you like being yelled at (without ever being able to return the favour).
In conclusion, theatres should not have front rows (they should have dummy rows filled with mannequins acting as a buffer zone between performers and audience). This isn’t the Globe Theatre, this is the age of computers. We are accustomed to having screens between the entertainment and us. Aren’t you happy that your front row seat to reading this post is the only seat in the house? And that you can’t smell my bad breath and body odor? I’m going to go take shower. And, no, Mr./Ms. Reader, I’ll have you know that there is no front row at my soapy one-man show.