We’ve had a lot of laughs at publishers’ expense lately, about how many “actual readers” they may have met, right? What if our writers know even fewer “actual readers” than our publishers?
You’ve been around too much lately, Helen, you ought to stay at home more.
That sentence, husband-to-wife, from Noel Coward’s Design for Living, was one of my most successful laugh lines on stage.
Theatergoers: this was many Provocations in Publishing ago, it’s perfectly safe to return to the theater, I’ve turned in my tights.
The reason I could trigger a loud, fast, prolonged laugh on the line was that I was coached very astutely—by a choreographer friend, ironically—to hold still; to turn downstage to the audience as Henry, Helen’s husband, and deliver the line, in near paralysis, directly out into the house.
Not a glance stage-right at the actress playing Helen. Not a hair moving. And not a whit of actorish expression on my face or in my voice.
This was my first experience of the peculiar power of an almost monotone delivery, the pure, unadorned wit of Coward sailing right out into the house. At the moment I said this, I was pretty much a human page, reducing myself to almost nothing but the words for the audience.
[pullquote]What do we need to do, in-community, to keep reminding each other to turn to the audience and deliver our best lines to the world, not to each other?[/pullquote]
Maybe the most important lesson about the comedic element, though, was this: The logical intimacy had flipped—the audience and I suddenly were in relationship, a near collusion, while Henry and Helen had become briefly and laughably estranged.
I thought about this for the first time in years when reading comments on our Writer Unboxed colleague Julia Munroe Martin’s piece here, Writing the Rails. (Good headline, by the way.) The piece, March 1, you’ll recall, is about the Amtrak residency for writers and Martin’s astute observations from her own mini-residency on the rails.
The farting lakes, yes, that one. [Read more…]