The unwritten character

Beryl Bain is making her debut at Lighthouse as Ava in the new comedy Five Alarm. We sat down with the accomplished and talented actor to uncover some of the answers audiences have been craving.

Q: What does live theatre mean to you, as an audience member?

To me, the theatre is not only entertaining and interesting but also therapeutic. It’s a community experience that you don’t really get to have in any other place. It’s live and everybody else is there taking it in with you. The lights, how people are moving on stage, how they’re saying their lines. There’s a certain amount of mystery that is involved in making theatre. But I also think the audience plays a huge role in why the theatre is special. In film, the audience has a separate experience; you’re not in it together.

Q: How do you connect with the audience?

The most important thing is to connect with the character and the show and the action that you’ve built, and trust that the audience will experience it because you do.

As actors, we are watching and listening for little cues from the audience.

Q: This is your debut at Lighthouse and first comedy in years, what drew you to want to do this show?

I wanted to do a physical comedy. There’s huge room for doing that extremely well and I think that’s really valuable.  I’ve had a year of doing lots of screen work, different types of theatre shows, different audiences. This is a completely different type of audience, they’re coming to see a good, funny show.

Q: Do you agree that comedy is very hard to pull off?

So hard! The physicality, timing, breaking actions down. You have to invest in it.

The play is about a chili cook off. That better be the most important thing in my life, you know? No one is going to show up to watch something that doesn’t matter to you.

Q: Why is comedy so hard?

I think it’s more recognizable, and therefore everybody is going to look at it with a really critical eye. We all know what’s funny and what’s not. The response is really fast, really visceral.  You can lose an audience quickly and if that happens you might never get them back.

Q: How is the energy different from a comedy versus a drama?

Comedy is more like a sprint, drama is more like a marathon because you expend energy over a longer period of time.

You have to be emotionally invested, keep up the pace, and watch you don’t lose them. It’s a challenge!

Q: With a drama you feel the energy from the audience but you’re not necessarily relying on their response. Do you think the audience plays a bigger role in a comedy?

I’ve never thought about that, but I think they do. As an actor one of my challengers is to try and get a sense of what’s funny without an audience, but I rely so heavily on them. As soon as they show up, I listen so hard and when they laugh I’m like ok that landed! One thing audience members might not know is how important the laughter is and just being vocal. They’re a character in the story. Without them there is no show.

Q: How do you handle a quiet audience?

You have to trust that people are taking in what you’ve made. They’re also free to take it in as they want, I don’t want to pressure the audience in to responding in a certain way. Every person in the house has a slightly different response to something. When you’re in public like that, there’s temptation to only laugh if other people are, but you’re sort of having an individual experience in a group, which I think is a special place to be.

Q: How do you keep your energy up?

Exercise and a positive attitude. I really try to connect personally as much I can to the material, which helps in terms of supplying the physical energy.  One thing to remember is the audience is always seeing it for the first time.

It’s just as much about good diet, exercise and sleeping as it is about the psychological aspect of it. This is the most important thing I’m doing.  You have to leave your personal life at the door, and that can be tough. That doesn’t always come for free.

Q: Over the course of a run, you are performing the same show numerous times. How do you keep it fresh for each new audience?

I warm up as a part of how I work every day because I just find myself more  prepared, stretched, exercised. You do whatever it takes to give them your best.

You can’t predict laughter or reactions. That can be dangerous, because every audience is different.

Q: How does it feel not having an audience during rehearsal?

I love the hall and I love rehearsing, but the minute I get on stage, in front of an audience, something changes. They’re a character in the show. I’ve never thought of it this way before, but the whole rehearsal period you’re missing a really key character – the audience.

By Nicole Campbell