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Unobserved, Uninvited: Unwanted Theatre

A strand in 12 Shows has been audience-performance relationships: what if the audience is unaware that they’re seeing theatre? What if the audience is only aware through limited signals? What if the audience is non-human?


For the antepenultimate experiment of 12 Shows, I thought I’d continue this avenue along festive lines: what if one presents a performance that the audience is fully aware of, but does not want?


This took two forms: reciting monologues in public places for audiences of one, and singing Christmas songs for a larger group.


While not the most exciting of the 12 Shows experiments, together I think there are still some ideas I can draw on going forwards.


The Show(s)


The monologues were recited for lone individuals in public places, usually as they walked a dog. I likely seemed like an utterly shameless egotist rehearsing or reciting for pleasure.


The Christmas songs were sung in a public place in hearing of a number of people, shortly before Christmas itself. Other numbers were included in a brief performance, for I was enjoying myself.


I am confident that the audiences were aware of the performances.


I am also confident that few wanted it.


Consenting To Theatre


When audiences enter a performance space, there is a clear bargain. This was part of the previous 12 Shows experiment into undeclared performance.


In that blog, I wrote about how audience members who don’t realise that they are receiving a performance are a) not open to receiving it and b) therefore not an audience, leading to c) that all performances owe the audience something.


In this experiment, I wanted to try changing that first part of the sentence: what would happen if the audience were aware they were receiving a performance, but had not chosen to be there?


This is, of course, a central challenge and part of the art of street performers. Being from a more traditional theatrical line, however, this was still an interesting experiment for me.


For the audience in street theatre must stop and linger; the hardest part is seeking those first people to turn an exercise into a performance. This is difficult when people have other aspects of their life to attend to.


It is not overly interesting, but worth reinforcing: without the audience choosing to receive a work, it is not yet a performance. This means that point c) above must come first.


What does this performance offer its audience? What can it offer them as they consider becoming an audience, whether in the street or a ticketing website?


Yearning For Audience


Almost all performance needs an audience, if only to cover its costs or serve its social function.


On reflection, I wonder whether I see this sentiment often enough in theatrical marketing. One often sees “we have a great product for you to buy!” or “people who like X will like our show!” or even “our show will make you feel things/experience beauty/laugh/have a nice time!”


But none of those are quite the same as an invitation, especially to someone needed.


What if we wrote invitations to the audience? It is more common in interactive theatre, where the need for an audience is usually clear and quite novel: who are they in the world?


But we need them, as much as one needs guests at a dinner party or wedding; mourners at a funeral; a loved one to warm one’s day in the cold winter.


How often do theatres write like that?


Theatre For Unwanting Audiences


Theatre for unwanting audiences must answer these things.


In the street, the performer’s vulnerability is clear. They need the audience, and are usually willing to present something to assure potential audience members that, if they consent to join the audience, their trust will be rewarded.


I would be very curious to see how the street performers in Covent Garden would market the operas at the ROH.


For some were, in their own times, brazen in having hummable, mass-market tunes. Their overtures are promises of entertainment. But things have changed.


How do you try and persuade someone to stop in the street and spend fifty pounds or more?


Not something I’ve got an answer for, right now, but still of interest.



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