Please turn off your celphones and pagers
During a recent production meeting for Measure For Measure, we talked about preshow music. The general feeling about preshow music is that it’s there to “set up” the audience in some way for the show they’re about to see. Some shows feature preshow music that is thematically tied in to the play. When The Laboratory for the Development of Substitute Materials performed Theoretical Isolation: A Post-Atomic Experiment, which was partially about the development of the atomic bomb, the preshow music included Tom Lehrer’s “So Long, Mom,” a satirical song from the 1960s about the atomic bomb. For Boy Gets Girl the audience was treated to 30 minutes of songs about stalkers: “Every Breath You Take,” Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession,” Peter Gabriel’s “Intruder.”
Sometimes the preshow is thematically-related sound effects. For a recent production of Macbeth, the preshow consisted of the desolate, windy ambient sound of the blasted heath where the titular character meets the Weird Sisters.
The preshow for just about every House show I’ve ever been to features a mix-tape of cool indie music, which has less to do with the particular show and more to do with the casual “come hang out with us” vibe that House creates. This vibe is arguably an important part of their success.
On the other hand, I’ve never heard preshow music or effects of any kind at the Goodman*. The audience comes in, sits down, talks to each other, and the first thing they hear from the speakers is the “Welcome to the Goodman…” announcement.
And if you’re in the mood for candy, please unwrap it…now.
Should we create a preshow cue? The Goodman and (to my knowledge) Steppenwolf generally don’t. Many storefront companies do. What’s the difference? Is preshow sound a vital element of the show that eases the audience into the world we’re trying to create? Or is it something the designer works hard on that the audience only peripherally acknowledges as they stow their purses, talk about their kids or their jobs or their friends’ love lives and forget to switch off their celphones? Are we insecure about bringing the audience into our space and then leaving them in silence that we know darn well they’re going to fill by themselves?
Let me know what you think.
* Update: just a few short hours after writing this post, I walked in to a preview performance of “Rock and Roll” at the Goodman and heard…preshow music. So there you go.
Freakin’ Tom Stoppard.