I have been on stage in some kind of performance capacity for as long as I can remember: dancing, acting, speech and debate, a very short-lived stint at improvisation –it’s not for me, etc.

No matter how big or small a part I have in a given production, I encourage [harass] my loved ones and their respective counterparts to come see whatever it is I’m performing in.

The second installment of Denise O’Neal’s “Fade to Black,” Houston’s first and only Black playwrights’ 10×10 festival, will be the last weekend of June and I have the honor of participating for the second year in a row. It’s about two weeks or so before my show opens that I really become bothersome and practically force my friends and family to venture out to the theatre. However, with my persistence to bring the people I know into those auditorium seats come the influx of silly, often funny, sometimes ignorant questions from those who seldom frequent or have never been to a theatre with an *re.

*Theatre refers to the stage.
Theater refers to a movie theater.
Microsoft Office and autocorrect never recognize the difference.

In light of my next performance and with the help of some fellow actors, I’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions that one should avoid at all costs.

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“What night should I come?”
Unlike the theater with the “er,” whatever I invite you to is live. Yes! Real live people, doing real live things, saying real live words. It is subject to change because of life. No two nights are ever the same and it’s impossible for them to be. Granted, I know people in the industry have their superstitions about attending preview and dress rehearsal versus opening night versus closing and so on –and some of those beliefs I have experienced to be true– but in all honesty, no one knows what will happen and I’m no fortune teller. Unless there’s a talk-back, a chance to speak with the actors, crew director/producers and more, or a reception following a particular performance, choose what night works best for your schedule. I just want to see your face in the audience or after the show. If you ask me, I’ll tell you to choose the night with the free food.

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“How long is it?”
Again, similarly to the question above, this is a live performance. I don’t know who might drop 20 pages worth of lines shaving off 15 minutes from the total performance. It happens. I can only tell you the average run time, about how long we’re expecting the show to last. But I know what you’re really asking here:
“So…how long until I can leave?”
“Can I still make the bar?”
“Should I eat before or afterwards?”
To that I say, thank you graciously for taking the time (and money) to see something you may not have been interested in if it weren’t for me; YOU BETTER NOT LEAVE MID PERFORMANCE I WILL QUIZ YOU.
Yes you can still make the bar, my cast and crew and I want to join you.
Yes, eat beforehand because why not?
Instead of being concerned about time, sit back and relax and enjoy. You never know, you may like it so much that this might become a regular occurrence for you!

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“What do I wear?”
This is a tricky one… it’s not that I don’t want you to ask this question but do use basic logic. If this is a formal function –I’m talking swanky donors the theatre is named after, old ladies decked in diamonds, furs on furs on– I will advise you to come in your BEST; I wouldn’t want you to feel uncomfortable and you’re not about to embarrass me either. So if I tell you I’m a part of a production at [for example] Miller Outdoor Theatre, where you will more than likely picnic on the hill and strain to see and hear the stage, no you do not need a full length evening gown to rival your senior prom. As a good rule of thumb, I’d suggest for evening performances to be business casual; you’ll be comfortable and presentable without feeling stuffy. Same goes for a Sunday matinee– daytime performances can be even more casual. Now if it were up to me the entire world would dress to the nines all day, everyday –hats, gloves, pins and broaches. However, it’s not 1922, it is 2014 and I trust your judgement. If you think you’re over/under-dressed, you probably are.

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“So like, are you a comedy or drama actor? Or like… movies or theatre?”
Here’s a secret– acting is acting is acting and an actor is an actor is an actor. Period. It doesn’t matter what a particular actor focuses their craft on or where their strongest skills fall, they are an actor. Some consider it politically correct to differentiate by gender and that is appropriate during awards season; never in my life have I introduced myself as an actress. It has always struck me as sounding incredibly juvenile; I always picture some spoiled little girl in a Disney Channel-like outfit with a stereotypical “stage mom” coaching her to be *AN ACTRESS!* But that’s just me. Honestly, I don’t introduce myself as an “actor” either since it doesn’t pay my bills (yet). What you should ask the actor in your life is, “what do you like best?” or “what are you best at?” and “have you ever performed in a Shakespearean play?” In my experience I’ve found actors just want to be versatile enough to continue to gain work in every field and medium.

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“Should I bring you something?”
Here’s another secret –I will never turn down free anything. I have a feeling other actors feel similarly. If you feel oh-so-inclined to bring me flowers and/or candies after the show, please believe I will appreciate the gesture, but truthfully, I just want you to stay awake and enjoy the show. More than anything I think most actors will agree we just want your butt in a seat; especially since many theatre companies operate on paying the cast and crew (if they’re paying at all) based on the percentage of ticket sales. I will say anyone who brings such gifts to a girlfriend or boyfriend in a show gets extra brownie points– it’s such a traditional and sweet gesture that has been romanticized in countless movies and I’m a sucker for clichés… on second thought DO buy those chocolates and flowers and make sure they each have their own respective seats in the audience.

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“Can I show up late?”
Exactly how late do you mean? Five minutes? Ten? Wait so you have a spin class 30 minutes before curtain? I don’t believe anyone should be late to anything at all except maybe fashionably late to a party. I am all for multitasking and trying to cram as many fun, cultural and stimulating activities into a single 24 hours as well but please make it on time and definitely don’t “second act” the show. That is only excusable in New York City where the ticket prices to the New York Times latest must see musical can put a stake through your heart therefore you have to do what you have to do. Would you miss kick off to your favorite football team’s game? Nope. At least entering a stadium or arena late has no effect on them; we however can see the light seeping through the doors and hear you climb over audience members (who were on time) to your seat. Reversely, do not leave at intermission. Give the actors (and playwright) a chance at redemption. Unless you are just THAT offended– fine, leave– in which case I say grow up.

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“Can I laugh/cry?”
I will never understand this question! YES– that is the whole point of entertainment! We want the audience to exude emotion at what we’re doing, preferably at the appropriate moment. We want you to laugh and cry and clap and make facial expressions. What we don’t want you to do is talk to your fellow audience member or the actors themselves– yes we can hear and see you. But please, NWA told you to “Express Yourself.” I’ve found more often than not that an audience can thoroughly enjoy a performance though the people on stage would never know it based on how reserved and hesitant they were. It always baffles me to receive praise and compliments from strangers in the audience post-show when the cast backstage the whole two hours were thinking, “they’re not receiving this at all.” We need your reactions, we feed off of it– especially in a comedy. The more enthusiastic and expressive an audience is the greater the fire it lights in everyone on stage to give the people what they want and really put on a show. Naturally, the idea is that every audience deserves to see (relatively) the same “final product” of a production. But the reality is that the time of a performance, the day or week the actors had prior to their next performance as well as the audience’s participation greatly effect a given performance. As mentioned before, no one can predict how good or bad of a run of a show may be, but you can do the actors and crew a favor and express how you’re feeling about what’s happening on stage. I know Mr. Salinger was cynical towards audiences and he’s mostly correct, “people always clap for the wrong things.” But I’ll take it– it’s better than nothing.

Despite my list of grievances, come see “Fade to Black!” Dress well, turn off your cell phone, wait for me after the show, sit through the entire thing– I will quiz you– and enjoy!

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For tickets to Fade to Black please visit http://www.mslilysgroove.com/FTB.html