Some years ago, more than I care to think about, I spent a delightful weekend’s afternoon taking a classical monologue workshop taught by the late RSC veteran Roger Rees. The workshop was offered under the auspices of the Red Bull theater company, which has been the premiere home for Elizabethan, Jacobean, and other classical theater for twenty years now. (Like I said, more than I care to think about.) Some years after that, I spent another afternoon as an afternoon stuffing envelopes for one of their fundraising campaigns – or maybe that happened first, the memory becomes unreliable after a while. At any rate, apart from attending their shows over the years, those two afternoons are, to date, my only direct associations with Red Bull – but that is sufficient for me to be on an email list to which they’ll periodically turn whenever they need to offer complementary tickets.
“Papering the house” is, of course, the time-honored technique of making a select number of seats for a given performance available for free, usually to designated services, theater professionals, or other people producers think they can trust, to ensure a full house. Sometimes it happens during the preview process, so the cast can get that valuable work done in front of a suitably dynamic crowd; sometimes that crowd is there for the benefit of expected reviewers; sometimes it’s just to keep a star happy by not having to perform to a swath of empty space. In any event, the producers are never going to give away the entire house; the premium, center orchestra seats, are going to be sold to paying customers if at all possible. So if you’re lucky enough to secure a ticket through such “papering,” you should assume that your seat is going to be in the back of the house, or on an extreme side, or in some other part of the auditorium that might be considered less-than-desirable. I was therefore not surprised when I went to their current show this weekend, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, and my complementary ticket was in the third row of the orchestra, just a shade close in the Lucille Lortel, and on the extreme right side – two seats away from the wall.
It turned out that this was the best seat in the house.
Not because of anything inherent to this production (which is excellent and you should see it, however you come by your ticket). And at first it seemed like a perfectly normal seat. But then, about two or three minutes before the start, the two people sitting next to me got out of their seats and moved back one row, giving their seats instead to a woman and her young child. I thought nothing of it, and sat back to enjoy the show. And enjoy it I did, especially since so many of the actors seemed to be directing their asides directly to me.
Except they weren’t making eye contact with me. They were addressing the child two seats to my left.
As it turned out, this child was the young daughter of one of the actors in the cast, seeing her father on stage for the very first time. And it was abundantly clear that over the course of their rehearsal time, the rest of the cast had come to know their castmate’s precocious child. So asides were directed her way. Bits of business referenced her. As the show progressed, and she got more excited, she would call out echoes of various dramatic lines, which then got worked into the script. Happily, because Knight of the Burning Pestle is itself about a troupe of actors trying to put up the very show you’re watching while dealing with an unruly audience, none of this was in any way disrupted. Indeed, it wound up enhancing the show, this diminutive vortex of chaotic energy spurring the actors on to ever more vertiginous heights.
A vortex, I reiterate, that was only about three feet from where I was sitting.
Please note that I can’t guarantee a similar experience to anybody making use of other complementary ticket services. But even if you don’t experience this yourself, at least you get a free seat out of the deal!