It's that time of year. Closing time. The Tony-nominated musical Leap of Faith announced it will be closing this Sunday, May 13, Theresa Rebeck's play Seminar closed last Sunday May 6 and the play Magic/Bird will close May 12. Even last season's hit revival How To Succeed... is going out on the 20th. Shows garner nominations and wins to push past the Tony season or they are taken off life support.
And it's also that time of year for television shows. With the network upfronts, many bubble shows could be canceled, paving the way for the new. The fates are holding the thin threads of these shows dangerously close to their large, gleaming scissors as networks assess the ratings.
With the outcome of television shows, I often feel helpless. How can I prove to the networks that I, a lowly TV-watcher off the Neilsen radar, watch and care about these shows in ways that could make any difference? Does anyone really know I'm watching? At least in the theater I know my money and presence is counted. In the theater, I am a body in a seat.
I might not be able to keep a show going on my own (some return to Leap of Faith night after night), but at least I know my presence is worth something. In my many years of theater-going, I have had a few instances of feeling the power of being an audience member, but I never felt it so intensely as I did one rainy night six years ago in Central Park's Delacorte Theatre for a performance of Mother Courage and her Children with Meryl Streep, part of the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park season.
Halfway through the first act they had to stop the show as a light drizzle turned into heavy rain. A few people left, but the show continued. The actors were giving the audience everything they had. They knew we were there for them in the rain, so they were going to be there for us, too. During her song of Great Capitulation that closes the first act, Meryl Streep was literally rolling around in the mud. None of the actors ever flinched. Act II started, but soon the show stopped again. The rain was really coming down this time, and it seemed doubtful that the show would to start up again. People in the audience started screaming. They stood up. Some were chanting, "Let's Go Meryl!" CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP. At one point Meryl Streep came out and wiped away some of the water from the stage, and we cheered. Finally, the announcement came that they were going to try to finish the performance. More cheering. The show started up again, and they were able to finish it. When the cast took their bows to deafening applause they thanked the audience, and we thanked them too. An announcer said, "Thank you to the cast who demanded that this performance continue." We all were a part of it -- audience, cast, crew. We all fought for that performance and we knew that we were the ones that made it continue. It could have stopped at any moment, but all of us kept pushing it on.
At this time of year, I wish I could walk into a theater or turn on my television and will a show to continue. I wish it were as easy as wanting it so much, and my cheering could push a show along despite low attendance or viewers. But I will be more devastated if some of my favorite TV shows are canceled because I will have felt that there was nothing I could do. In terms of current TV viewer participation, voting only lets you keep a singer on American Idol, not keep a favorite show on the air. Networks and producers have to make money, of course, but at least with theater, everyone will know I was there. I will be counted in the capacity. The actors will see me just as I see them. I will always be a body in a seat.