Over the course of nine seasons, the filming style of the television show The Office allowed the cast to “break the fourth wall” and acknowledge the existence of us, their audience. The concept of the fourth wall refers to the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled proscenium theatre. The invisible wall is the window that the audience gazes through to view the imaginary world.
For a television show, the TV screen serves as the fourth wall. The screen separates and creates the boundaries between two worlds - the actors stay in their box and the audience sits on their couches.
When the fourth wall is broken, fictional characters can address the audience as though having a conversation. The Office employed this technique and allowed Michael Scott to confess his inner most thoughts to us. Pam and Jim let us be a part of their in-jokes as they mugged and snickered as though we were in the next cubicle. We saw Dwight and Angela’s (and others) nervous shifty glances as office romances blossomed. They knew we were watching.
This type of direct connection between characters and audience helped to establish a more intimate relationship between the world of the television show and the real world. For me, it made me care more about these characters than casts of other television shows. Which is probably why I took the concept of breaking the fourth wall to a whole new level as the series prepared for its final bow.
Earlier this month, my family joined thousands of other fans for a finale farewell to the cast of The Office in Scranton, PA. The road trip was more of an impromptu adventure than a planned journey. Searching various websites for spoilers to the series finale, I stumbled upon an article announcing The Office Wrap Party hosted by the city of Scranton.
At first I figured it was just a promotion of small town celebrations – maybe a party at a local bar where people would gather to watch the last show. But to my surprise, a long list of main characters were scheduled to party with their audience. Characters Pam, Jim, Erin, Dwight, Creed, Toby, Phyllis, Oscar, Meredith, Kevin, David, Daryl, and behind the scenes talent promised to be there.
The afternoon began with a parade where the actors greeted their audience as they rode through Scranton streets. As the parade ended, cast members interacted directly with their fans and signed autographs before hopping onto the stage for a karaoke sing-a-long with the band The Scrantones. Creed Bratton played guitar, Craig Robinson was on keyboard, and Rainn Wilson on tambourine. Oscar Nunez danced to “Billie Jean” and the ladies belted “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. Phyllis Smith got teary eyed as the cast spoke about the show concluding.
As the audience took pictures and held their phones in the air to capture video footage, John Krasinski and other cast members pulled out their own iPhones and began to film us, their live audience. The cast seemed to want to capture these moments and memories for themselves. It was a humbling experience as the fourth wall broke in a way that I had never experienced before. We had been their audience, but then we all just became a group of people having fun and celebrating. There was no more them and us. It was a sincere moment of connectedness that actors strive to achieve. One that I believe the creators of the show would say they were proud to create.
The Office Wrap Party ended that evening with a question and answer session with the cast at PNC Field. A thunderous roar of cheers and applause erupted as a surprise guest – Steve Carell – walked onto the baseball field. The evening concluded with a blooper reel and sneak peak at the final upcoming episodes.
And for my son Jonah, the evening ended with a big hug from Phyllis Smith as she and the rest of the cast made their final exit.