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The Ensemblist is an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer- from the first rehearsal through performing eight shows a week and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced theatre professional or a passionate fan, The Ensemblist will give you the opportunity to get to know new performers and the great work they do onstage, while also shedding light on some of the hidden innerworkings of the Broadway experience. Created and hosted by Mo Brady (The Addams Family, SMASH) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Chicago, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. 

Blog

When The Audience is the Ensemble

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

WhatTheConstitutionMeansToMe.jpg

I’m one of those theatergoers that runs away screaming at the idea of “audience participation.” I avoid improv comedy like the plague because I disdain being called upon to provide a suggestion. When attending the theatre I like to be out of the line of the sight of actors, as catching the eye of one of the performers could take me out of the storytelling.

Yet I found myself willingly wrapped up in the proceedings of What The Constitution Means To Me. Performers Heidi Schreck, Mike Iveson and (on the night I saw the show) Rosdely Ciprian spend the show directly addressing the audience at Broadway’s Hayes Theater. This recognition into the story of Constitution immerses us so fully and warmly into the proceedings, I willingly felt a part of the ensemble driving the story forward.

I don’t mean to confuse this style of production with “immersive theatre,” where the audience is brought into the physical world of the show as is the case with this year’s revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! It’s not even the same as Hadestown where the actors recognize the audience during the performance. In the case of Constitution, the show feels impossible to run without theatregoers on the other side of the proscenium. It simply couldn’t exist without us.

That being said, the proscenium is hardly a confine for the actions of Constitution. Characters enter and exit through the audience and cues are yelled up to the theatre’s booth. Without being physically transformed into anything other than the Hayes Theatre, the auditorium feels a part of the set in Constitution.

This welcoming of the audience is not a unique theatre construct. Earlier this season, Mike Birbiglia winningly included the audience in his performance of The New One at the Cort Theatre. Like Constitution, this device never felt off-putting or exhausting. But while Birbiglia simply referenced specific audience members, Schreck includes the audience as a living, breathing force into her performance. She does not so much reference one theatergoer, as she includes us as one solidated entity.

Working together, the audience engages with Schreck throughout the performance to help her tell the story. At times we are asked to audibly cheer or jeer at ideas or statements, not as individuals but as a group. The moments where both happen simultaneously are thrilling as the room feels to vibrant with the power of connectivity.

Like the constitution of the United States, the script of What The Constitution Means To Me is a living, breathing document. Several moments in the show included references to current events from the last week. The proceedings in Constitution feel so alive that it’s hard to tell where the script could end. At times it’s structure feels jolting, but the plot never missteps or feels unintentional.

When I saw the show, the performance ended with Schreck and Ciprian sitting on the edge of the stage to ask each other questions “provided by last night’s audience.” I spent a lot of time in the following days wondering if they were really questions provided by theatergoers or were simply a part of the script. In the end, I decided it didn’t matter because it made me feel something either way. And that’s the kind of experience we go to the theater for.

 

Heidi Schreck in  What The Constitution Means To Me

Heidi Schreck in What The Constitution Means To Me