When Rick Kerby took over as the producing artistic director of Manatee Players, there was a tradition he wanted to do away with.
"When I first got here it was already established," he said. "My first thought was to get rid of it. I thought, 'This is just so amateurish.'"
Over the years, he's come to accept and even value the tradition.
He's talking about that thing that some companies never do, some companies sometimes do and some, including Manatee Players, always do. After the show, cast members rush off stage and into the lobby, somehow getting there even before the audience, and accept greetings and compliments from people who enjoyed the show.
There's no official term for those events. Some people call them meet-and-greets, some people call them receiving lines. Some people call them "joyed-it" lines.
Some people just call them awkward.
"I am firmly opposed to them," said Jeffery Kin, the artistic director of the Players Theatre in Sarasota. "I think it puts the audience in the position of having to say something whether they want to or not." It's really easy for an audience member who really wants to meet the cast to do so, he said, by hanging out for a few minutes and waiting for the cast to start heading home.
Personally, I've always found the lines slightly annoying. It breaks the magic when I've spent two hours being charmed by Eliza Doolittle and then I walk into the next room and the same person, in the same costume, turns out to be Jane Johnson, and she's sweaty and her makeup is running.
It also made me feel like I was imposing. I figured the actors would probably rather be changing and heading home.
Manatee Players, of course, are not alone in the practice. Jobsite Theatre, the resident theater company at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, has a "joyed-it" line after its current, excellent production of "Return to the Forbidden Planet."
It was a decision made just for that show, which includes some audience participation, and
it was done as a sort of a lagniappe for audience members.
"As an actor, they make me a bit uncomfortable, too," said David Jenkins, Jobsite's artistic director and the director of that show. "But we perform for an audience. We like audiences, and we'd like to have bigger audiences more frequently. Connecting with them a little bit to give them a little something extra ain't killing anyone."
One actor friend of mine said he didn't like being in those lines, because his training and instincts told him he should never appear in costume but out of character.
And, when he was in the audience for a show, he said, he didn't like them because if he wanted to compliment just a couple of the actors in a show, he felt obligated to compliment every actor, and that diluted value of the heartfelt compliments.
Kerby said he again considered ending the tradition last year when Manatee Players moved into the Manatee Performing Arts Center, but by that time he saw the value.
"For our actors, it's their paycheck" he said. "It's a chance for them to know they're appreciated for their talent."
Manatee Players actors are never required to do the meet-and-greets, and some don't. But in every show, most of the actors choose to take part. And it's easy for audience members to bypass the line and head straight out.
Kin pointed out that while the actors are out in the lobby getting their compliments, the tech people are waiting back stage, "twiddling their thumbs," waiting to remove body mics and put costumes away. And, as a professional costume designer in the area pointed out, "One spilled cocktail and I'm there for four more hours."
Chritoff Marse is a former Equity actor who appeared in the Manatee Players production of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" last season before returning to professional theater. He had never seen the meet-and-greet lines before, and he was wary.
"It can come off as a way of begging for approval," he said. "In professional theater, no one would ever say 'How did you like the show?' In community theater everyone does."
After his very first "joyed-it" line at the Manatee Players, though, Marse said he completely changed his mind.
"It gives the audience a way to express appreciation for the performances they do not get by merely applauding," he said. "And you get really nice feedback. And it's really nice to hear, 'Oh, that was wonderful.' I think it's great thing.".