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  • Shelby Bond

When you wake up with an idea

I've was reading Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation by Gareth White when I fell asleep last night and all night long my brain was mulling his statement,


What is it that makes participation exciting to some audiences, and horrifying to others? Or, perhaps, what makes some kinds of audience participation seem trivial and embarrassing, and others substantial, seductive and effective?


People often ask me, "Are audiences different around the world?" Absolutely. Almost without fail, my first show in a new country fails. It's not something as simple as pop culture jokes or a lack of local references. It's something much deeper, it's cultural. In Australia it's incredibly visible with their Tall Poppy Syndrome. If there's a field of poppies the same height and one sticks up it gets cut down by the others. A way to describe this might be to explain the difference between America (a country full of tall poppies) and Australia. In The States if someone drives by in a Lamborghini, the average American would be like, "Sweet ride! I'm gonna have one of those one day!" In Australia the average Aussie would be like, "You show off! F'n wanker!"


The way this plays out with audiences in OZ is they generally cringe at the mere idea of being called out in an audiences. I once did a show Down Under and got a review that said, "If you like being a part of the show, you'll love this one!" That immediately, hugely cut down my audience sizes. In America, where so many people think they should be famous, if you ask for an audience volunteer, hands fly up everywhere. In Australia, with the same question, eyes all go to the floor. Of course this is a generalization but after 20 years of touring I can tell you, unequivocally, that culture effects audience reaction to the same material.


So, my idea last night. I'm going to create an online survey about audience participation/interaction/immersion. What are the commonalities when it comes to an interest in being more of a part of a show and which things repel people? What is a "rush" and what is seen as embarrassing? If I get enough people to participate in the study I'll be able to use these statistics in my final paper for my MFA. This is particularly relevant as the three shows I'm producing right now with BMP are ascending in levels of participation, allowing the audience different opportunities to assert their own agency within the show structure.


I can't wait to see the responses!

Often when the best ideas occur

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