Monday, February 20, 2012

Learning from kids

I just finished the John Lithgow biography, Drama: An Actor's Education, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of my favorite stories happens in his early career when the 6-foot-4 actor is cast as Lenny, the large but simple man in John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" . Although he is better known for more debonair personalities, Lithgow found the opportunity of playing Lenny exciting. But the biggest challenge was the rowdy teenage audiences that came to the student matinees at Princeton's McCarter Theater. The play's tenderness and melancholy was lost on the rambunctious kids who laughed at all the wrong spots and made fun of Lenny.Lithgow took on the quest and by adjusting the show's pacing was able to squeeze out inappropriate laughter and comments. "By our last "Of Mice and Men" matinee, we had learned to cast a spell over an audience of teenage kids. They laughed all right, but only when we wanted them to. And when we wanted them quiet, you could hear a pin drop... By the end of our run the show had vastly improved. And I believe it was the student matinees that had improved it. We hadn't learned all that much from the adults who had come to see us, but those kids had taught us volumes."

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