I have performed Phone Whore probably close to 200 times, if not more. I have performed it a lot, in packed 100-seat theatres and in the basement of a pub with three people watching. For a frowny, arms-crossed crowd in a women’s bookstore, and for a room that was half-full of sex workers. I have a lot of experience to draw from, in terms of assessing audiences, but the show this past Saturday night was something special, and by special, I mean, AWKWARD AS FUCK.
All’s well that ends well, and I am here to tell the tale. We pulled it back from the brink, and it was a nice, tight show, performance-wise. But it started like a smoldering trash heap, oh Christ.
To start with, my front-of-house volunteer, a bright-eyed young theatre person who had checked in with me on the two previous nights when he arrived 15 minutes before house opening… well, he didn’t check in with me this time. I texted him at 20 minutes to show: no answer. I peeked out the doors at 15 minutes to show—when the house was supposed to open—and he wasn’t out there. I couldn’t understand it, he had been talking the whole weekend about bringing his dad, and then the night before he said he was bringing his mum, too, they were huge theatre fans, “don’t worry about it,” he said. And he had just pushed the show on Facebook. What happened?
I came back into the theatre and said to my technician, right, if he’s not here by five minutes before show, we lock the doors and have the drunkest, most leisurely load-out in theatre history. I was fully ready to cancel. I had already clocked out. It had been a challenging weekend, and if nobody showed, not even my door person, that would be the perfect icing on the bad, bad cake.
As I was getting ready to lock the doors, I looked out one last time and… there he was, smiling and leaning against the desk out there, and waving out me. And there were people out there. Not just his mom and dad, but, like, three other people.
I turned to the technician. There are people out there, I whispered. We have to do the show. And then I whirled back around to the volunteer, with my eyebrows lifted significantly. Can you come in here for a second? He walked in, and his family followed him in. By yourself, I hissed at him. They can’t come in yet. He hastily gestured his family back out into the lobby, I gave him a quick pointed briefing about CHECKING IN with your BOSS when you arrive for your volunteer shift, and told him to let the audience in.
It was a small house—six people, including the volunteer and his mom and dad—but not the smallest I’ve ever had. Not noticeably more awkward until I started doing my normal pre-show crowd work. You’re Joseph’s mom? Oh, you are? Okay, and you’re also his relative? You’re his AUNT. Excellent!
I extricated myself from that as quickly as I could, and slid down the row to chat with the straight couple a few seats down. And how did you find out about the show?
“We saw the poster.”
It wasn’t as bad as that: they were visiting from Glasgow and staying at a friend’s flat nearby for the weekend. They had swung by the pub the previous night because they heard it was a good one with good entertainment upstairs. Nothing on this week except Phone Whore, so they looked me up and decided to come on closing night. “Yeah, when we googled it, a bunch of 4- and 5-star reviews came up, so we thought we’d take a chance.”
So, okay. At least 33 percent of the audience was informed about the upcoming work.
Joseph finally closed the doors and the first phone call came on. The audience missed the first laugh checkpoint, so I was prepared, but damn, they were quiet. So very quiet. It was the quiet of paying attention, not the quiet of “we’re hating this,” so I plunged on ahead, but still AWKWARD, and about to get more so. In between calls 1 and 2, my character talks about a couple of clients, including one guy, “he’s an ass men, he’s a real sweetie, a real Southern gentleman.” Whose name is JOSEPH.
FUUUUUU…. It didn’t even hit me until I spoke that paragraph out loud, and then I was like, oh. Right. I wonder if his family will ever let him live that down? I wonder if his family will ever talk about this play, ever, was actually what I was thinking, because they saw the whole thing. They stuck it out. His mom, dad, and maternal uncle were sitting right next to him and I did that full-out mommy-fucker call, and then of course Call 4.
I did say I survived, right? And so did they. Everyone in the house hung around for the Q&A; the energy was fine in there, good questions, etc. Afterward, though, I asked my tech how the show felt from up in the god box, and he said, “It was a good run, but I had to stop watching toward the end.”
What, the play?
“No, the audience. During Call 3, I started covering my eyes, and I hid behind the desk for all of Call 4.”
Folks, when the tech says it’s awkward, it’s AWWWWWKWARD.
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