The feeling I get, as an actress, when bowing to the audience after a performance is like no other. It’s a mixed feeling of luck, relief and joy. Lucky in having the opportunity to have willing watchers and listeners. Relief that those damned nerves are finally gone, and joy that the audience are actually clapping! The adrenaline from hearing the applause rushes through my body. My true smile can finally spread across my face. The visceral sense of communication and contact with the live audience is so satisfyingly humbling. As artist Andy Goldsworthy once said, “The difference between a theatre with and without an audience is enormous. There is a palpable, critical energy created by the presence of the audience”.
The overwhelming nerves are a big contributor of that wave of exhilaration after the show. I would almost say the performance itself is like the catalyst. The late Rosalind Russell famously said that ‘acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly’. The stomach-crippling nerves usually kick in at least a good six hours before show time. Although for me, they really intensify just a few moments before I enter the stage. I then begin to ask myself typical questions: “What the hell am I doing here? Would it really be so terrible if I run away now? Maybe no-one would notice…” But as soon as I step on stage and into the scene of a completely made up world, those nerves disappear somewhere and I embrace the stage with my character’s sense of self. The more extreme the nerves, the more euphoric the end feeling is. It’s exactly that feeling – the addictive buzz, the silly squeals and childlike high-fives with the other performers when coming off stage, that answer those pre show insecurities; I do this because it makes me feel so alive!
All the turmoil the actor can suffer should probably put off the actor ever developing a career; all those terrifying auditions; anxious waits for phone calls; tedious rehearsals… But the thrill of being on stage and seeing the audience react makes that whole process worthwhile. So worthwhile in fact, we choose to start the whole process all over again, just to perform, and by hearing the gratifying applause at the end of the show gives us a salutation that we have done our jobs well. As the applause echoes through the theatre, the overwhelming experience of closing the show and taking a bow is so fulfilling it oversees any doubt an actor can obtain from countless rejections. ‘An actor has to burn inside with an outer ease.’ – Michael Chekhov.
Of course, there are times when the audience doesn’t always appreciate your work. People walk out, or heckle, but that comes with the audience’s individual opinion, preference and understanding. Performers understand that not everyone in the audience is going to enjoy what they’re seeing. If there were mishaps in the performance taking a bow can seem a little less enjoyable. Every performance is different; therefore the audience reaction will be different.
Lewes based actor, Zeff Sherriff, says
‘If the play went badly I would feel awkward on stage taking a bow and would prefer to be anywhere except on stage. However, if I thought it went well I would gladly appreciate any praise for the hard work that we have put into it. If the play has gone (in my opinion) perfectly, then the self-satisfaction is tremendous because you will get a ‘feeling’ from the audience that you have done the job that you were meant to do, (making it believable and conveying the truth). So in one sense it is self-gratification that really gives me the buzz and the applause is just a bonus.’
Jonathan Brown, actor, director and award winning playwright says,
‘I invariably feel calm and relaxed after a play, especially if it has gone well, and perhaps a little embarrassed and apologetic if aspects of it haven’t. I feel very energised, and full of endorphins…I enjoy praise, and feel affirmed by it, but if I know a piece has gone well, I don’t need to hear it. I can just trust that an audience has gone away happy, or changed, transformed, and that the sweet moments within the play have had a deep impact on the fabric of the space/time continuum, and that something in the world, somewhere deep down, has changed forever. If there are very bad muck ups, or a generally poor performance, then I may be feeling disappointed and frustrated by these, and wonder why these have happened, and how to mend the situation for next time.’
Brad Glen, Brighton based actor says,
‘My overwhelming emotion is gratitude – there is still a small part of me that doesn’t quite believe that I am there, onstage and doing my best to entertain people, and so I find the fact that people are prepared to spend their hard-earned money on seeing something that I am performing in very humbling, and I am, and always will be very grateful for this. If I know that I have done my job well, there is a sense of pride too, but never in an arrogant way – I take pride in knowing that I have done my best for the people that have come to see the show, and that I have entertained them for a while – this is the key for me. Knowing that the audience have enjoyed what I have done for them makes me feel elated and humbled, and keeps me coming back for more!’
I was once so terrified a few moments before a show, and another cast member said to me something that I will always remember – the audience want you to do well. That is very true. The audience are not there to look for faults, cockups and mishaps. They are there to enjoy themselves and take pleasure from the performance. And it is exactly that, knowing I have the support from the audience, before even going onstage, that drives me to perform to my best and truly enjoy it myself. In the words of Oscar Wilde, ‘I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.’