Lincoln Center Theater
 
 
 
Backstage Blog

by Brendan Lemon

Oh, They Remembered: The Actors Reminisce

Jan 2, 2013

'Tis The Season

Dec 14, 2012

Zach Is Back (And Others Are, Too)

Nov 29, 2012

A Russian is in the House

Nov 9, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get There

Nov 1, 2012

Downton Abbey Versus War Horse

Oct 19, 2012

In Demand: Hair and Make-Up

Oct 11, 2012

Three Generations Watch the Show

Sep 28, 2012

Ariel's Back at the Beaumont

Sep 18, 2012

War Horse's Closing: What to Feel?

Sep 7, 2012

The Actors Take a Vacation

Aug 27, 2012

Mister Klein is in the House

Aug 7, 2012

Checking in with Sanjit

Jul 28, 2012

The Parade in the Lobby

Jul 19, 2012

Kings of Infinite Space

Jul 2, 2012

Merv Has Something to Crow About

Jun 21, 2012

War Horse Takes the Field

Jun 15, 2012

Sailors go to War Horse

May 30, 2012

Facing a Student Audience

May 16, 2012

The Man Behind War Horse

May 8, 2012

Anniversaries, First Nights, and Andy Murray

Apr 20, 2012

A Bonnie Blue Easter

Apr 9, 2012

Where are the Women?

Mar 29, 2012

Catching up with David Manis

Mar 26, 2012

What People Really Say Backstage

Mar 8, 2012

The Story of Andrew and Albert

Feb 24, 2012

Bellying Up to the Barr

Feb 15, 2012

The Guy with the Goods

Feb 7, 2012

What the New Billy Does Between Shows

Jan 23, 2012

Some Actors Say Goodbye, Others Say Hello!

Jan 12, 2012

Waiting for the Next Wave

Jan 5, 2012

Greetings, Friends!

Dec 21, 2011

Which Way to War Horse?

Dec 5, 2011

What War Horse Actors Line Up For

Nov 18, 2011

Eleven Eleven: For the USO

Nov 14, 2011

What The War Was Really Like

Nov 9, 2011

What They Say in the Returns Line

Oct 26, 2011

The World of Isaac Woofter

Oct 19, 2011

How Elliot Villar Survived His Injury

Oct 11, 2011

WAR HORSE: Reading Suggestions

Sep 28, 2011

Herr Hermann on His German Officer

Sep 22, 2011

September Brings Showers - Of All Kinds

Sep 9, 2011

Richard Crawford Makes Some Thunder

Aug 24, 2011

The Stage Manager Speaks

Aug 15, 2011

"Making War Horse" airs this week on WNET

Aug 8, 2011

Houston is in the House

Jul 28, 2011

WAR HORSE in Summer Attire

Jul 22, 2011

Keeping it Clean with Lynn Bowling

Jul 11, 2011

Ariel Heller Hits the Target

Jun 27, 2011

Alyssa Bresnahan: Life with Mother

Jun 21, 2011

In the Winner's Circle on TONY Night

Jun 13, 2011

Mad About Madeleine

May 27, 2011

Lobby Talk: Audience Members Speak

May 20, 2011

Students are in the House

May 12, 2011

Who Taught the Cast to Fight?

May 2, 2011

The Week After Opening

Apr 22, 2011

WAR HORSE on Opening Night

Apr 15, 2011

Is WAR HORSE Sentimental?

Apr 8, 2011

Helping Out a Buddy

Mar 28, 2011

Song Woman: Mighty Kate

Mar 25, 2011

The First Preview

Mar 17, 2011

Seth Numrich: Boy with a Horse

Mar 7, 2011

What Shall We Call Mr. Millar?

Feb 28, 2011

Can I Bring the Kids?

Feb 18, 2011

New Kids

Feb 10, 2011

Keeping War Horse Moving

Feb 3, 2011

What Happens at Lunchtime

Jan 31, 2011

A Gathering of the Troops

Jan 20, 2011

How WAR HORSE Got Cast

Jan 13, 2011

The Voyage Begins

Jan 10, 2011

Students are in the House

May 12, 2011

Albert, the main character in War Horse, describes his hunter colt, Joey, as "spirited" and says that this quality "is the best thing about him." Spirited is also an apt description for the New York City high-school students who attended this week's schools matinee of the production. Organized by the LCT's Open Stages Education Program, which prepares the students in advance with three in-school lessons (there's also a follow-up), the event is always a high point in my yearly calendar.

The intense energy of teenagers always affects how I feel while watching a performance; this week's experience was no different. I've never had such a visceral response to the end of the story. Similarly, Seth Numrich, who plays Albert and who himself enjoys working with public-school students, told well-wishers after the matinee that he felt more overwhelmed than usual during the show.

Other cast members told me that they, too, were jazzed to play for a student audience. Why? In general terms: actors work hard during the course of a long run to keep a production emotionally alive, and a highly responsive audience helps them maintain a non-static relationship to their material. When they get laughs or detect under-the-breath comments during a performance (yeah, actors hear that audience stuff!), they can feel their perspectives refreshed.

During the post-show talkback, during which students could ask the actors questions, Alyssa Bresnahan, who plays Albert's mother, said, "I feel at some points in a performance not just what my character SHOULD feel but what the audience is feeling then, too. And today was so exciting in that regard." Boris McGiver, who portrays Bresnahan's husband onstage, added, "An audience and the actors together form a hologram"-- an image that appears three-dimensional. "If you take away the audience, you're left with nothing. Today was quite a hologram."

I don't want to pretend that all actors appreciate student audiences. I've heard a few express mild annoyance after such shows, especially with precisely timed farces where a raucous response threw off the actors' timing. (My advice: if you can't handle a lively crowd, what in the heck are you doing in a comedy?) More often, however, actors love having their performances shaken up. Nothing can feel more deadly than polite laughs or polite applause. Better to have emotionally engaged teenagers than respectful anyone else.

And the adolescents at this week's War Horse matinee certainly were unbridled at times. (A little applause, please: that's my first equine metaphor in weeks.) A few of the comments I heard during the show, especially about the authenticity of the horses, are simply too earthy to share -- I risk offending the delicate sensibilities of some Backstage Blog readers. Other responses were amusingly city-kid: a boy behind me kept talking about "the duck." (He meant the show's goose.) My favorite comment, though, was unmistakably street-smart. It was uttered by a girl who, rapt with attention all afternoon, during the play's climactic scene turned to her friend and whispered, "If they kill that horse, I'm going to rush the stage and start World War Three!"

She meant it.
***
P.S. I can't complete this blog entry without name-checking the New York City schools that sent students to this week's matinee. A hearty thanks to all of them:
High School for Environmental Studies
High School for Health Professions
High School of Fashion Industries
Lower East Side Preparatory High School
Manhattan Theatre Lab High School
Marble Hill School for International Studies
MLK for Law, Advocacy & Community
Justice Murry Bergtraum High School
Opportunity Charter School
PACE High School
Professional Performing Arts High School
Vanguard High School
William E. Grady High School


Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.

 

Comments

[1]

  • Thank you for posting comments about experiences with student groups. As a teacher and fan of War Horse--I made a special trip from Texas to NYC to see the production in preview, have read the book several times, am following the London and LC theater web sites, have studied the educational materials at both, and will be treating my nieces to a performance in June--I am especially interested in how young people respond to the production and how the actors view their audiences. I was especially pleased to see the list of schools that sent their students to performances. I'm a product of the NYC public schools and I congratulate the district on providing today's students with rich theater experiences. Did any of the student groups have a back stage experience beyond the post-show talkback? Is it possible for individuals to make arrangements for a backstage visit? If yes, how might that be arranged?

    San Antonio Teacher, May 15, 2011