I have come to appreciate and loathe the school gymnasium. On our tour with NTC, my partner and I have come across several of these halls of pooling sweat and raging hormones. The fair majority of our performances thus far have been on these heavily waxed floors. I have some judgements to pass about the gym, some good, and some bad.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. To start: sound quality. My partner and I are both trained performers and have the ability to project our voices in such a manner that we can fill the space. This can be said of any actor who knows their stuff and has strong lung capacity. The sound problem comes from the exceedingly high reverberation of the space. I know that I can make my voice echo in many theatrical spaces, but to hear my voice bounced back to me that much...it's a little crazy. Not to mention the kiddies. Every single noise that they make is amplified to the power of ten. We have a few instances where we have to ask our audience of middle-schoolers to give us a suggestion. First try to imagine 300 students yelling what they had for lunch yesterday, then add in the extra noise reverberation. Owch.
Another issue with gyms: distractions and over-familiarity. The students that we are performing for know that space far better than my partner and I. We really only get a full feel for the room when we introduce ourselves at the top of the show. The kids know this space and know how they naturally behave within that environment. Most kids know that this is a assembly and that they should be granting us their undivided attention. However, if your neighbor is your bestie, and you gotta ask about that math test, and did you see how I did on my fitness test, and did you see where the Frisbee that they threw went? Little things like these could take minutes to talk about and notice. By that time we could also be done with our sketch.
On the other hand, there are some good things as well. Oddly enough, on of them is also a bad thing. The sound quality in the gym means that you know when a joke is working. When the kids laugh out loud, that fills the entire gym even more than their shouting. It also helps that laughter begets laughter. I often find that if one person starts to laugh, then eventually the entire room will join in. It's like the laughing game I plaid as a kid where you lay in a circle with your head on someone's belly, then you laugh one person at a time. The first laughs once, the second twice, and this continues until someone breaks out in the giggles. It helps that the game is a little ridiculous, but it shows my point.
Another benefit from working in the gym is that it seems to separate the division between actor and audience. We performed in an auditorium the other day and I tripped and fell as I entered on stage. With the way the space was set up, only first few rows were able to see if I was okay or dead. Had I done that in a gym, the entire group would have seen me eat the floor. Why, you ask, is this a good thing? It means that there is a closer connection between myself and my audience. I can see how they are reacting to me and my jokes and, pending on said reaction, I can adjust accordingly. Additionally, since this is an educational program, I have the opportunity to see these kids being entertained while also thinking about what we're telling them. It's really quite cool.
So, what is my final verdict on the school gymnasium? While they are noisy as all get out, but in the end, I think they are probably the best venue for this type of production (especially if everyone can see whether I break my face on the floor or not). We are able to more actively interact with our audience and they are able to see that we are humans too. Overall a B+.
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