Alexis lost a bet. Now, she must venture into the abandoned home of the formerly living Abigail Caldwell to take something while her friends wait outside. Unfortunately, this house is not empty. There is someone waiting for Alexis. Someone who has been alone for such a long time. The Lady in White.
The excerpt below is from my play, The Bottom of the Lake, available from Theatrefolk. The play itself mixes many genres but this is pretty much a straight up ghost story. Enjoy!
(Alexis enters the house. The only light coming from her flashlight.)
ALEXIS: This isn’t so bad. Just an old house. An old, dusty, decrepit house. There’s nothing to be scared of. (Bumps into something. Screams.) Crap! (Flashlight pans around on dolls.) Wow, she did have a lot of dolls. Maybe I should just take one of those and . . . (We hear a cat’s meow.) Well, that’s cliché. Here, kitty, kitty. Where are you? I bet you’re not scared. (Moves the flashlight around. Hears movement behind her. Cat makes screeching sound and then runs.) Or you are. (Hears a noise and quickly turns.) Who’s there? (Sees nothing.) I’m just letting Molly get to me. Nothing here but me, creepy dolls and a cat. (Hears children laughing.) And laughing children. (Looks around with flashlight.) I gotta get out of here. (Flashlight starts to flicker and then cuts off and Alexis is left in the dark.) Okay, okay. Relax. Just slowly make your way to the door that you left open. (Footsteps are heard.) Oh god. Who’s there? (More movement is heard. We hear Alexis bumping into things.) Oh, man. (Breathing is heard. Alexis stops moving. Her flashlight starts to slowly flicker on. Alexis begins slowly moving the light around. After a moment, her flashlight finds the Lady in White, a ghostly figure dressed in white and obviously dead. She is looking at Alexis, who is completely frozen. The Lady in White starts moving closer to her. Alexis continues to stare, unable to move. The Lady in White ends up right in front of her. Alexis looks as if she is about to cry. Silence fills the space.)
LADY IN WHITE: Did you come to play? (Alexis struggles to speak.)
ALEXIS: Wh . . . I . . . what?
LADY IN WHITE: Did you come to play? (Silence)
ALEXIS: Uh . . . no.
LADY IN WHITE: That’s too bad.
ALEXIS: Are you--?
LADY IN WHITE: I am.
ALEXIS: Holy crap.
LADY IN WHITE: I assure you, there’s nothing holy in this house. (Alexis looks scared.) You’re afraid.
ALEXIS: Seems like a natural feeling.
LADY IN WHITE: I suppose. (Lady in White walks away from Alexis and over to a window and looks out.)
ALEXIS: Look, I just came to--
LADY IN WHITE: Take something. I know.
ALEXIS: But how could you--
LADY IN WHITE: I was watching from the window. (Lady in White turns to her.) It wasn’t the drapes. (Begins wandering through the room.) I’m glad you came. I’ve been rather lonely all these years with just
my dolls. And the children, of course. (Looks at Alexis) You heard their laughter, I suppose?
LADY IN WHITE: (Looks off.) When I hear them laugh, I relive it all again. Every painful moment. (Pause.) They said I murdered them, but how could I murder the only things I ever loved? (Pause.) They were like me. Damaged. (Looks at Alexis)
ALEXIS: Then why did you let them die? (Lady in White turns on her angrily.)
LADY IN WHITE: What did you say?
ALEXIS: I . . . uh . . .
LADY IN WHITE: How dare you come into my house and accuse me of such things?
ALEXIS: I’m sorry. I just heard-- (The Lady in White stares at her.)
LADY IN WHITE: You shouldn’t always trust what you hear. (Begins walking around the room.) I had locked them in their rooms because they wouldn’t listen to me. Unruly children need to be punished. (Silence) When the fire started, I rushed upstairs. The doors were so hot and flames . . . were everywhere. I couldn’t breathe, and the next thing I knew, I was outside on the porch. I tried to get back in but it was too late. So I sat and waited. (Silence.) They sent me away and when I got out . . . I came back here. To the only home I’ve ever known.
ALEXIS: How did you die?
LADY IN WHITE: (Lady in White turns to her.) They murdered me. The ones who believed that I was responsible for the children’s . . . (Stops herself and looks out a window.) They tied me up and locked me inside the closet. The one in the attic. The same one I was locked in as a child. I pleaded with them, but they didn’t listen.
ALEXIS: I’m sorry.
LADY IN WHITE: Are you?
ALEXIS: Yeah. (Lady in White smiles slightly.)
LADY IN WHITE: Then perhaps you could do me a favor . . .
What is this favor that the Lady in White desires? Will Alexis do it? Do she have a choice? Will she see her friends again or will she be . . . condemned? Head over to read more at Theatrefolk by clicking the play title at the beginning or you could just click the picture below.
After months and months of rehearsals, they’re finally here. Coming straight from work or from a day of relative leisure, they get their programs, find their seats, and begin the ritual of checking their phone or engaging in small talk. They occasionally glance at the closed curtain with various levels of expectation as to what awaits them when it opens.
All the while, you and your fellow actors are behind that curtain, anticipating the moment when it’s pulled back, the veil drops, and you let the people in the seats meet your characters and the world that you’ve created. While you wait, you might stand quietly with butterflies fluttering all over your stomach, maybe doing a little last-minute character work, some mindless chatter, or perhaps even engaging in some ritualistic phone-checking of your own. But all the while, you think about them. As they’re sitting out there. Waiting. For you.
They might be silent – but you know they’re out there.
Projecting their emotional needs onto you:
“Entertain me!” “Make me laugh!” “Make me cry!”
At times, supportive:
“I could never do that.” “So talented.” “I feel like I’m in another world.”
And at times, critical:
“That looks nothing like a real ship. It looks like painted cardboard.”
“Wow. Was that 40-second pause supposed to be in there?”
“Wait, I thought she was supposed to be dead? You can clearly see her breathing.”
What kind of audience will you get? You never know, but today I’ll share some tips that will allow you to focus on your character, your fellow actors, and the world of your play without worrying about that fickle creature known as “the audience.”
Without further ado, curtain up!
1. You are not performing for the audience. Yes, they are there watching you and your fellow actors bring a play to life, but you’re not doing it for them. Your only true objective is to create a believable character that lives, listens, and interacts with the world of the play.
2. But do care about your audience. You need them. All performers do. You invited them to share in this world you’ve created, and the way to show them you care is by simply being aware of them. The good news is that being aware of the audience is easy if you keep a few key things in mind: Am I projecting? Can the person with hearing issues in the back hear me? Am I avoiding the infamous “butt-shot?” (Or, “can the audience see my face?”) Am I holding long enough (but not too long) for laughter? There are other questions you could ask yourself, but those are the main ones that show you are aware of your audience.
3. Don’t judge the quality of your performance based on the audience’s response (or lack thereof). They might be loud. They might be quiet. They might respond to everything, some things, or nothing at all. So you must not gauge how well the show is going by the audience’s reaction, because no two audiences are the same. Play your objectives and attack every moment. If you do that, then you’ve done all you can. Besides, sometimes the quietest audiences will come up to you afterwards raving about how good the show was.
4. Play through. Your audience won’t hear or see the “mistakes” that happen unless you let them. Long pauses full of actors staring at each other with looks that say “Oh crap! What do we do now?” are one way of telling your audience “Something is wrong!” So is apologizing. So is a two-hour silence. Don’t do any of those. Play through the issue, and stay in character. Keep the show moving no matter what, as if everything that happened was supposed to happen. You will be surprised at how few of your mistakes were actually noticed by the audience.
5. You can’t make your audience respond. You can set everything up for a response, but in the end, each member of the audience responds or doesn’t respond based on variables over which you have no control. This also applies to making someone laugh. One audience might laugh a ridiculous amount and the next night, when the same joke is delivered in the same amazing way: crickets. Or silence, if there are no crickets. Once again, your focus shouldn’t be on getting a response; it should be on playing your objectives and attacking each and every moment. And if you do that, the responses will come. Or they won’t.
6. Remember: your audience wants you to succeed. This is because if you do succeed, there’s a huge chance that they are being entertained. (Also, a bunch of them are probably related to you.) So there is no reason to fear them. Unless they brought tomatoes. Then you can fear them.
Now, there are actually 245 more facts about audiences that you should know, but I’m not sharing them. If I did, this post would be really long. So instead of that, I encourage you to come up with your own facts about audiences based on your experiences. The more you know about these . . . “audiences” . . . the less scary they’ll become.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.