Attendance can sometimes slow at the theater during the Holidays. And it probably doesn’t help when some plucky film makers decide to release the latest offering in a beloved franchise. Therefore it’s quite possible during the time of the year that we find ourselves entertaining a rather modest crowd some nights.
The largest show in which I’ve ever performed was for over 1,400 (and included two large HD screens to show the stage action) while the smallest show I ever did was for 4. But having now by conservative count been lucky enough to perform in over 2,000 improv shows, I have observed that having a large audience is no guarantee of success, whether you opt to measure in laughter or artistic satisfaction. Many of the best or most shows were for smaller audiences.
One private show (in the very early days of CSz Sacramento) that is particularly memorable was for a small wedding reception of 10 people. The bride hired us but kept it a secret from everyone else, including the groom. Pretending to be a wandering improv group, we showed up at the B&B to offer a show in exchange for food. The bride had provided inside information that we slowly worked into the scenes to the astonishment of the crowd. It was a lot of fun to watch people catch-on at various points. And afterwards we were also invited to share a very lavish array of catered gourmet food (still the only time I've eaten lobster on a private show...)
Anyway, I sometimes wonder if the players worry less about the audiences and perform more freely when there is less audience to worry about. Perhaps there is some threshold below which the performers are doing it more for themselves and each other. Some people would argue that’s how art should always be, i.e., do it for yourself, not for the audience, payment, etc.