Art Matters: Three Cheers For The Audience

Joanne Briana-GartnerENTERPRISE FILE PHOTO - Joanne Briana-Gartner

If you were to ask 10 people why they attend live theatrical performances, you would likely get 10 different answers. Locally it might be because one knows a cast member, further afield one might travel to the city inspired by a great review or to catch the revival of an old favorite. You could even be sitting at the theater because it’s date night with your wife and you couldn’t think of a clever excuse to get out of it.

Whatever the reason, take heart because you, as an audience member, have an important role to play in the very performance that you are viewing.
“Who, me?” you say, “I’m not an actor.”

Although not listed on any show program, the audience, in truth, is part of the cast and an important part at that.

While the artist without an audience would likely still create and the musician would likely still practice their instrument, an actor needs an audience. A theatrical performance without an audience would fail to be the very thing it has set out to be. It’s like the koan about the tree falling in the forest—if a show is performed without an audience, is it still a show?

There’s an energy audience members give to a performance when they react to it, and in turn performers give that energy back to their audience.

I’ve been to shows where the only thing that I found lacking was that there wasn’t enough of an audience to make the show come to life. A show that’s performed in an enormous venue that’s only one-quarter full might not give off the same vitality as that same show with the same size audience performed in a smaller space that’s filled to capacity.

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“When an audience responds, it energizes the members of the cast,” said Lisa Jo Rudy, who’s been involved in many theater performances on the Upper Cape and who is currently directing “Alice in Wonderland” for the Woods Hole Theater Company opening later this month. “When people respond you want to give them more,” she said.

Instead of asking why they attend live shows, perhaps the better question is, “What do people get out of attending a play or a musical?”
The answer is plenty.

Ask a sports enthusiast why they go to a stadium to sit in cold metal bleachers a quarter-mile away from the action when they could sit in their comfy recliner in their warm living room and see the quarterback get tackled in high definition on a 60-inch flatscreen TV.

Seeing something live is an experience, whether it is a sports event or a Broadway show; there’s a sense not only of empathizing with and relating to the performers, but there’s also a camaraderie with the fellow theater-goers who have all spent the better part of two hours in suspended belief with you.
You may already know how “Evita” will end because you’ve seen it a dozen times but what you don’t know is how this show will end, how this director will interpret the script, and how these performers will carry it out.

And most of all, you don’t know yet how this performance might affect you.

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