Last Saturday night the show officially hit its stride. I myself had, and also heard among several of my cast-mates, a number of those incredible moments (which leave an actor feeling, in equal quantities, both frustrated and elated) in which you find yourself performing a scene and wondering why you hadn't been doing it that way since the beginning.
To be fair to myself (and everyone else) there are at least two simple answers to that question. One reason is that those discoveries must occur organically, and are the result of a kind of ease and confidence with a scene which one can gain only through the repeated experience of living that scene more often than practical restraints allow for in rehearsal, and which (unless the scene is a soliloquy or a monologue) also depends upon your scene partner(s) being on the same journey with you and actively searching for a similar discovery.
Another reason is that often these discoveries only reveal themselves once a mutually healthy relationship has been established between the performer and the audience: an exchange of trust and confidence, an affirmation and assurance that the performer knows exactly what they're after, is totally committed to achieving it, and is going to make damn sure their audience knows it too; in exchange for which leap of faith the cherished ideal audience assures the performer that they are there (as our director Christopher Sigurdson put it so well) to serve as witness to this struggle, to actively share this journey with the performer, and that they will make damn sure that the performer knows when they are (or are not) fulfilling their end of the agreement.
This exchange between artist and audience is (in my humble opinion) the only reason art exists, and a clear (though in many cases indescribable) expression of a profound truth (whether it be a "simple" truth, a complex truth, or even an ambivalent truth) is what should define "great art". The live performing arts (including theatre, dance, live music, stand-up comedy, etc.) are unique, in that the exchange between artist and audience is immediate, of the moment, and usually palpable and quantifiable.
If the audience laughs at the funny parts, you know instantly that they're on your side, and seeing things from your point of view. If they clap, or holler, or get up and dance, you know they're accepting what you're giving away and want to give something in return. Sometimes this assurance, or vote of confidence, is as simple (and undefinable, though no less palpable or quantifiable) as an exchange of focus and energy: an unmistakable sensation that the audience is with you.
Of course, I say unmistakable, but most performing artists will admit to having completely misunderstood or underestimated an audience's level of commitment and enjoyment: those shows where you find yourself backstage (sometimes onstage) muttering to yourself about "morgues", "mannequins", "oil paintings", "stuffed shirts", etc., only to receive a thundering ovation at the end, and shouts of "bravo". Some audiences express their appreciation and offer their support with an exchange of energy that is internal and more soft-spoken than others.
All of which is to say that my own experience of last Saturday night's show was that of an ensemble of artists and an audience who were meeting one another on equal terms: a full-spirited, fully committed, outspoken exchange of energy and mutual confidence (on a gorgeous, mosquito-free late Spring evening) channeled into the act of bringing Shakespeare's sublime world to vivid life before our very eyes.
That's why Shakespeare in the Ruins exists.