Audience Participation

This winter break I have been back in the UK, and have had the pleasure of seeing pantomime, being involved in performance art and attending workshops on physical theatre. While I was in the UK I thought at lot about how theatre is changing for the audience. This blog will focus on some experiences I have had recently that have shifted the goal posts of what audiences can now expect, and how they are involved and inspired.

In Pantomine it is expected that the actors will break the 4th wall – the Pantomine Dame throws sweets, children come up on stage, and the audience warns the heroine of the villain’s presence ‘He’s behind you’, and there is banter between the heroine and the audience ‘Oh no he isn’t!’, ‘Oh yes he is’. The audience is necessary for the energy and excitement of the show to develop. Audience participation is expected, and if they don’t contribute then the essence of Pantomime is lost.

In Kathakali the audience is not necessary at all. The performance is actually done for the gods, with the link to the immortal world being made through the lighting of the oil lamp. The flame heralds the presence of the god of fire, Agni, who is the mediator between man and gods, and is present to witness the action.

When I went to see Punchdrunk’s production of ‘The Drowned man: A Hollywood Fable’, an adaptation of Buchner’s Woyzeck, the immersive style of theatre gave the audience yet another role. The fourth wall was created by wearing a mask, but we were invited to touch, taste, feel and breathe the action.

The sensory experience is something that I had not experienced before, and it was like a video game, with scratch and sniff and moving seat, all brought together in an extraordinarily real experience. Something that the makers of Disney Land could only dream of!

If you are more interested in how to approach how audiences are involved in theatre, or not, then I recommend 2 publications:

‘Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation’ Gareth, White, Macmillan. 2013

And

‘Theatre and Audience’ by Weaver and Freshwater, Macmillan. 2009

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