By Kelsey Blackwell
Many of us are familiar with the feeling- you and your cast are putting your everything into a performance. Every bit of energy you have is thrust onto the stage. You’re trying so hard to connect…but the audience would just as well be a field of crickets. Maybe it’s out of respect, maybe it’s out of boredom, or maybe you’re in the unfortunate position of being cast in a terrible show. In any case, the audience is unresponsive, and that lack of feedback makes it impossible to tell if you are accomplishing your goals on the stage.
This is one of the most difficult parts of being an actor. When audiences are dead, it takes much more energy for performers to pull together a lively show. The energy must come soley from the performers. When they throw it out to the audience, it is not received. When energy is not received, it simply dies away. In this case, the people on the stage are doing all of the work. This kind of production is exhausting and imbalanced.
Audiences full of theatre students and professionals, however, are notorious for being exceptionally responsive for plays and musicals. Actors do not have to force their energy. The audience is no longer a place where energy goes to die. Instead, the energy is caught and thrown back and forth between the actors and the audience.
This is the kind of audience that actors cross their fingers for, but it is not necessarily the best audience.
In the case of KCACTF Region 4, audiences were both devotedly responsive and horribly disrespectful. They laughed like hyenas, and gasped like children at every cue. During Amelia Earhart half of the audience clapped wildly while the other half dozed off. During She Stoops to Conquer, the chorus of laughter was constant, but iphones flooded up the house like a light show. During Race: A Play audience members got up in the middle of the show and left.
You would think of all people, theatre folks would not be the ones to show this kind of blatant disregard for performance artists. It’s worse than the field of crickets from theatre lay people, because this audience is aware of all of the work that goes into a show.
Are Theatre People Really the Best Audience?
The answer is simple:
Theatrical audiences are the best because they understand what it is like to perform the stage. They know how difficult it is to give their all to an unresponsive audience. They respond with claps and laughs in the appropriate places- even when the feedback isn’t necessarily deserved.
Theatrical audiences are the worst, at least in the case of this theatre conference, because they are quick to judge. Those who already have a knowledge of the process seem to decide early on if the show they are watching is worth respecting. As a result, those who enjoy the performance are at stark attention, while others feel they have the clearance to outwardly disrespect it.
The beautiful part about theatre as an art is that anyone can connect to it.
That’s why I say that the absolute best audience would be a hybrid between the theatre people, lay people, and those with good home training. IF you ever find this audience, be aware that you are experiencing a miracle…comparable to finding a unicorn.
Whether your audience is a field crickets, hyenas, or unicorns, remember it is still your job to accept them for who they are and give your best performance every time. It will make you all the better.