Friday, July 25, 2014

Meet and Greet

A few years ago in this space, I wrote a bit about the curtain call.

After the curtain call, I am used to disappearing. After giving my best performance, and then sincerely bowing to those who came to watch, my job is done. It's time to mop off the makeup, get into my own clothes, and leave the temple -- er, the theatre -- with dignity. If I know there are friends coming, I'll go out and see them, of course. I'm grateful to them for coming and waiting to see me. However, even here, I prefer to keep a low profile so as not to put myself on parade.

(The rest of that post can be read here.)

At the time, I was working on my first role in Las Cruces, and had recently learned about a local custom that seemed strange to me: meet and greets with actors, in costume, immediately after a performance. Years later, it is still extremely uncomfortable for me, whether I am an actor in the show or sitting in the audience.

From the audience, what I see is the actors doing something like a traditional curtain call, but instead of fading into the wings they run out -- still in costume and makeup -- to form a reception line in the lobby and receive compliments in person.  (If you actually clicked the link and read my post about the curtain call, you may understand my nausea at this.)

Members of the audience are then put in an awkward position, having to decide whether it is mandatory to stand in line and greet the actors in person, or whether it's okay to head straight out to the car and risk seeming rude. At the Las Cruces Community Theatre, the reception line often creates a backup all the way into the theatre, to the point that people have to sit in their seats or remain standing, waiting to leave, including elderly people. To be blunt, it strikes me as rather awful. I have been told that some patrons enjoy this, and from my unscientific observations, I concede that some do, yet I suspect a slight majority either don't care or find it uncomfortable.

Meet and greet is also part of our show here at Unto These Hills, and I'll come back to that in a moment.

As an actor, I have tended to despise the meet and greet. At the end of a show, I am likely to be sweaty, in need of a bathroom, or simply wanting a moment to calm down. Casually gadding about in costume and makeup also feels, internally, a bit disrespectful of the illusion we created. Or just awkward. When the performance is done, the mask is to be removed and put in its place.

Going further, I don't like members of the audience feeling like they are obligated to greet me personally; nor do I want to project the image of the actor basking in praise. As I wrote in the aforementioned post, I'm a singer in the choir, and the glory is not for me.  Sure, it's nice to hear a compliment when I've done something well, but that's a gratuity. It's about the work, not about Algernon.

At the Black Box Theatre, I usually agree to do the "greeting line" on opening night. The other nights, I go backstage, calm down and get out of costume, and then come out to say hello to friends or thank the volunteers. (Thanking the volunteers is very important.) Also, I am very happy to do post-show receptions - just let me pee and towel off, get a glass of water, and I'll be happy to come out.

Unto These Hills is a different kind of venue. The Mountainside Theatre is part of the Cherokee Historical Association, and our show could be described as a sort of living exhibit and tourist attraction. Elsewhere on the hill is the Oconaluftee Village, a living replica of a Cherokee village up to the 18th century, and at the bottom of the hill is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and a craft cooperative.

We do meet and greet in rotations. Each night, immediately after the curtain call, a group of cast members ascend the steep hill to the very top of the house, by the exit, where the departing spectators cannot avoid us. By the time we get up there, our hearts are pounding. I sit on a stone wall in costume (including a long wig). Historically this show has taken some criticism for casting white actors as native characters; in recent years they have been sure to cast more Cherokee actors in important roles, yet here I am in a wig, feeling rather conspicuous at meet and greet. I felt so grateful the night an elderly Cherokee man, beaming, having bounded up the many stairs without breaking a sweat, smiled one of the warmest smiles I've ever seen and greeted me, in Cherokee: "O sta!"

The show has an educational purpose and these "meet/greets" have the potential to spark an interest in a subject that is badly taught, or simply missing, from most public education.  One cast member wrote on her own Facebook page:

Tonight at Meet and Greet a man, I'd guess in his 60s, asked if the play was based on a true story or a legend.... I don't blame him I blame the severe lack of Native American education in our country. I'm at least proud that we can spark some interest in the subject, but the widespread ignorance and apathy for a whole race of people, my people, really breaks my heart.
For that, I can take the stick out of my ass about meet and greet. Maybe it really does help. So it's okay to be there and also okay to feel weird about it. And eventually someone from stage management emerges from the shadows, dressed in black and wearing a headset, and says, "You're released."  Off I go, taking the most invisible route I can, hoping our presence helped someone connect to the story we are telling.

[Image: Lobby area, Mountainside Theatre, Cherokee, NC.]


Kelly said...

I can understand how the "meet and greet" serves a purpose in your current production. Still...I would find it very uncomfortable on either side.

Shaun said...


I actually dislike them as well - particularly costumed M&G... unless they are done for a particular purpose. *I too hate the whole breaking of illusion.

However - Elders really tend to enjoy them, and they can provide valuable feedback if it's a preview matinee.

For schools they are invaluable, and a huge opportunity for students.