For an actor, there's no feeling quite like playing to a full house, and there's no disappointment greater than looking out into the audience and seeing rows and rows of empty seats.
The theater students at Dougherty Comprehensive High School in Albany, Georgia, know that sinking feeling. A small troupe is putting on a play called "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress." On Wednesday, their opening night, no one showed up. At all.
"There were no adults except for me and my mom," says Dougherty drama teacher Christen Taylor. "The kids were heartbroken and disappointed."
Dougherty is in a disadvantaged part of the city, and, like so many schools, Taylor says attention for the arts is not exactly a high priority.
"We don't really have a budget," she says. "Arts programs are typically not as supported as a basketball game or as a football game. Unfortunately, if we don't like plays, we feel like we don't need to come."
Still, Taylor had seen the talented teens work so hard and overcome so much to put on a great show, it seemed unthinkable to let their efforts go to waste. She posted a request on Facebook for friends and community members to come and show the production some love. A family friend also posted about her story, and within hours people began inquiring, wondering how they could help. Some offered to provide dinner to the players on Friday night. Because of the social media posts about it, CNN affiliate WALB even picked up the story. On Thursday, the second night of the performance, about 40 people showed up.
The difference, Taylor says, was palpable.
"When [the kids] opened the door, there were people from the community that wouldn't have come otherwise." The play is a comedy after all, and the audience filled the room with laughter. "[The kids] could hear them and feel the energy. When there's a packed crowd, there's a buzz and electricity in the room," Taylor says. "They were stars."
So here's the deal. If you're in the Albany area Friday night, pay them a visit. The show looks like a hoot, and judging from the responses they've gotten, Taylor expects it will be well-attended.
But she also knows -- any good teacher would -- there's far more at play here than getting butts in seats. Taylor says a lot of students at the high school have overcome great personal challenges just to make it through school, let alone pursue extracurricular interests like drama. "Our kids are struggling," she says. "It's so hard to come from the bottom. And [the response] has just blown me away, people loving on my babies, on these kids."
"We need our kids to see that people care about them when, maybe, a lot of people in their lives really can't," she says. "They just need to know someone's there."