Not quite as good as the first night, but still a very good show, and an appreciative audience. I'm very happy.
Something that I've noticed about amateur casts doing comedy is that while there might be the odd logistical problem or lost line on the first night, their energy and enthusiasm more than compensates: an amateur company can frequently outshine a professionals with a first night performance.
On the second night, however, a professional company reaps the benefit of a morning lie-in and knowing how to pace themselves for the long haul. Meanwhile, amateurs, who have school, or day jobs, plus homework, plus final rehearsals plus evening performances; begin to realise how tired they are. (Thank goodness for the energy of a youthful student company!)
This fatigue, coupled with absolute commitment to making the second night even better than the first, often produces a very fast show. The actors' concentration on not forgetting or skipping anything can lead them to race through dialogue at a remarkable pace; and a second night can run fifteen minutes shorter than a first night - not a line missed.
The effect, not surprisingly, is to kill the laughs, because the audience is so busy keeping up with the flow of dialogue and action, that they don't have leisure to laugh. Comedy is often intricately plotted, so while they appreciate the jokes, they daren't laugh in case they miss something important!
As the show progresses, of course, the actors and crew start to wonder what's wrong with the audience, because they don't react, and to work harder and harder to compensate. Stressed actors are not funny. The audience begins to feel irritated. Stressed audience.
I speak from experience as an actor, and as a theatre-goer.
Soooo, as my darling cast hurtled into last night's performance like an express train, I had to concentrate hard to follow the dialogue, and I know the script! Oops.
How was the rest of the audience getting on? Applause in all the right places, but not a lot of laughs. Hmm.
After a while I went backstage, to creep around the set and dressing rooms telling everyone to slooooow doooown, especially on the big rhetorical speeches. Back in my seat, the change was apparent immediately (They're so good, these guys. An actor may understand the reason for a change, without being able to process and apply it immediately, but they did. Pleased and Proud, yet again!). As the pace slowed, there was time for thought and emotion to come through, breath to project voice, time to project character, space for the comedy to hit home. People started laughing! Oh good.....
From then on, they were just fine, and the second half absolutely rocked!
It's a basic fact of doing comedy that for the audience to see what had the actors rolling on the floor at the first read-through, then the timing of dialogue and stage business (comic use of props) is critical. Consequently, it often happens that the actors have to rehearse specific gags to the point where they don't feel funny any more: trusting their instincts, and their director, who is, after all, the only one who can see everything that is happening. Thus there comes a point when they need to get out in front of an audience, because the audience's response is the final element in the equation.
So what happens in a successful comedy show?
I think it goes something like this:
Actors act, delivering funny lines and looks, and generally laying down plot. (Exposition, if we're getting technical, but it's the weekend, so no more of that, thank you!)
Actors feel happy, warm into roles.
Audience giggles, exchanges glances.
Actors relax and settle into the job in hand, factoring all that lovely audience feedback into their performance.
Audience laughs, catches its breath, keeps on laughing.
Actors expand into the work; build on the rehearsed action; respond more spontaneously to the script, each other, and the audience.
Audience applauds, grinning broadly; retires to bar to compare favourite bits.
Actors and audience return refreshed and eager for more; pick up the second half and go for it.
Audience claps til their hands hurt. Curtains close.
Actors bounce off stage, hot, sweaty, exhausted, and happy.
Audience pours out into the night air, clutching sore sides and aching cheeks, and urging one another not to make them laugh any more because it hurts!
And here's that equation:
Damn good script + well-rehearsed, talented company + appreciative audience = the best fun you can have with your clothes on.
Movies are fun, but in a live performance, the audience counts for a lot more than box office revenue.
Comedy, tragedy, musical, straight drama - it makes no difference: in theatre, the audience and the actors are in it together.
Nothing like it.