Sometimes, as with most stutterers, it takes a while to communicate. The night’s program, for instance, listed the duration as anywhere from 90 minutes to 10 hours, “depending on the performers’ fluency.” Mr. Alexander liked the idea of “playing around with time.” And Ms. Falco, the evening’s host, who does not stutter, agreed: “We’ll be here all fucking night if that’s what it takes.”
“No one thinks about stuttering; it’s done for comic effect,” said Mr. Rudd, who was introduced to Mr. Alexander while preparing for a role on Broadway that required a stutter, and who sits on Our Time’s board. He had a similarly trenchant tone. “Who sits there for five minutes and really tries to empathize with what it’s like?”
“We deal in a venue of communication,” said Ms. Falco, referring to her craft. “That’s my work. The idea that there are children who are not able—”She broke off. “I feel genuinely ill.”
The theater, meanwhile, was sold out—all 860 seats.
It is nearly impossible to convey what exactly a stutter sounds like out in the open air, let alone as a piece of performance. It’s an expectant silence that grows in everyone’s chest.
But tonight it was theater as an act of recalibration: Listening is uncomfortable, get used to it.
Clare, a blond 7-year-old, devastatingly cute in a little blue dress, was the first to take the microphone, which was as big as her head. Having joined the group only a week prior, she is Our Time’s youngest and most recent addition. She said all of this, with a few hiccups and halts, to the soft patter of a drum. Julianna, a more veteran member, joined her and had an even harder go of it: “H-h-h-hi, y-you d-d-did a r-really great j-j-j-job.” She read maybe three more sentences in the same number of minutes.
And then, as if touched by some unseen hand, they opened up and sang Ms. Simon’s “Anticipation” (“Anticipation/ Is makin’ me late/ Is keepin’ me waiting”). Everyone in the audience was sobbing. Tears, and weighted sighs, became the theme of the night.
By the time Ms. Falco was introduced, she was visibly shaken. And then every time she came back to the stage following that—after an improvised scene with The Daily Show’s John Oliver and Mr. Rudd, after Lucy Woodward sang “You’re So Vain” with eight of the kids—she looked more and more worn down, and sounded increasingly tight-throated and fraught: as if she had recognized stuttering as less a matter of speech than an existential obstacle for us all.
When Ms. Simon was actually handed the award at the end of the night, the whole orchestra seemed to have collapsed into a jumble of wails. Ms. Simon choked, “I’m a very emotional person,” and gathered herself. “It was a contortion of my being. There’s poetry in the rhythms you all bring to it,” she said. “It’s such a mystery.”