Monday, May 16, 2005

Against the spectator state- do we really want more participation?

Brian Logan's Guardian article Against the spectator state is about theatre audiences and their relative passivity but obviously, it has implications beyond that. In ye olde days of the Bard and the classical composers, audiences didn't sit on their hands and listen quietly- they talked to each other, walked around and then listened in on the action sometimes. Nowadays, not just a cell phone ring but an ill-timed cough or sneeze could get you dirty looks. You get the feeling that such a rarefied atmosphere is part of what keeps younger or adventurous patrons away from this crusty events and not just the same old fare offered.

So if a sea change happens and we do have more active audiences, how is that going to make things for the performers? Since they're already conditioned to perform in front of quiet, unobtrusive audiences, this is obviously going to take some getting used to.

Call it a hunch but you get the feeling that a greater participatory audience would have to be initiated from the side of the performers/management- as fun as it would be to imagine, the idea of a widespread audience revolt just seems too unlikely. If theatre companies or classical ensembles did try to encourage a heightened level of activity, there's no doubt that the audience itself would need some time to get used to the new shift also.

Compare this to other types of music concerts. At a jazz or blues show, people will regularly applaud at the end of a great solo. At a rock concert, the volume will usually be too loud to hear any crowd banter during a song but look out between songs- request for song favorites and "Freebird" will fly around. At a rap show, how often do you get asked to "throw your hands up in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care" or to shout a phrase back at the microphone technician? And how about the African phenomenon of spraying the singer with money after he's mentioned your name or a family member? At King Sunny Ade concerts, people have been known to line-up to do this. At punk shows, there's the fine arts of moshing, crowd surfing, etc..

Most likely, this isn't what Logan and others have in mind when they cite the need for more participation but this can at least foster ideas and inspiration. They should be careful what they wish for though. Once the audience gets the idea that they don't have to be quiet little sheep for all these performances, it'll be interesting to see what else they will be expecting, besides more reasonable ticket prices...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey are you a professional journalist? This article is very well written, as compared to most other blogs i saw today….
anyhow thanks for the good read!

2:30 PM  

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