I wrote earlier about a flying disturbance in the theatre. Today, I’m going to write about the seated variety.
We’ve been getting an awful lot of chatter from the audience. All “good” chatter, “relevant” chatter, but chatter nonetheless. Occasionally it will be someone repeating a joke that their seatmate missed. More frequently it will be an out-and-out response to us on stage. Some examples:
ME: I’ll never do that again.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah, right!
ME: I’m sorry I don’t have any cigarettes.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have some!
Some shows lend themselves to audience interaction: Murder mysteries, pantos, rock concerts, for example. This particular show does not. It’s your kitchen sink fourth wall kind of play. The show is being staged in the round, which means that our fourth wall is very large. Maybe it’s being stretched too thin.
On one hand, it’s a good thing. It means that the audience is engaged in the performance, they are focused on the action and are personally involved in the lives of the characters. On the other hand, it’s totally bizarre. What do they think we’re going to do? Engage them in conversation? Invite them to the stage? Let them vote on the outcome of the show?
And what do we do? What can we do but ignore it?
The notion that an audience sits quietly through the performance is actually pretty new. Shakespeare’s groundlings were notoriously boisterous, Pepys writes about all sorts of licentious behaviour in Restoration theatres. Even modern Italian opera audiences are known to boo a poor performance.
Here are some other pieces I found discussing audience behaviour in the theatre:
- Shakespeare’s Audience
- A Guide to Audience Behaviour
- Calling out bad behavior by theater audiences
- How a standing ovation led to stage rage
- Is it okay to boo at operas?
Over to you: Have you ever witnessed strange audience behavior?