Commentary: What should ushers do when audiences wants to get up and dance? 
Ian Lambert, Arts Professional [UK] , 9/28/11

There seems to be a new phenomenon in musical theatre audiences. The 'get up and dance' phenomena. It's not unusual for somebody who's seen Grease for the umpteenth time to sing along to "Summer Nights". But it's annoying, right? What about when people get up and dance in the aisles? The new musicals based on cult movies or the opus of seventies pop groups have created something new - an audience that responds as they would at a live concert. However, there is a conflicting issue. More traditional or sedate audience members choose not to get up and dance. They simply want to watch and let the performers entertain them ("it's what I paid my £40 for!"). This is understandable too. So how do you keep the two parties happy? Bring on the usher. The front-of-house staff becomes the theatre equivalent of the school Hall Monitor. We turn from friendly ticket-checker to strict disciplinarian. This is the 21st-century audience; the X Factor crowd. This is their musical, their teenage songs and characters, and they are here to revel and rave in their memories. Who can blame them? The front-of-house team are told to sell, sell, sell drinks during the incoming and the interval. By the middle of the second half, clusters of tipsy forty-year-olds throw off all inhibitions and become teenagers again. Then the team that sold them the drinks [is] reprimanding them for being drunk and enjoying themselves too much. The consequence is that the good old front-of-house assistant is thrown into the lion's den. Keep smiling while you tell people "don't enjoy yourself quite as much as you'd like - or we'll call security."

Commentary: Utah theater crafts shows based on audience participation survey

Annelise Murphy, Poison Ivy Mysteries website, 9/16/11

Our [interactive] murder mysteries are meant to be fun and entertaining, but... occasionally, I will get a concerned caller booking tickets that wants to know what audience participation means. Will they be forced up on stage? [These are the five levels of audience participation in our shows:]

#1: Mingling: The most laid back form of audience participation. Guests can choose to interact with the actors as they come to your tables or they can sit back and watch.

#2: Questioning: Everyone is encouraged to get up out of their seats and interrogate the murder suspects. You will be provided with question cards for each character. If you want to ask them additional questions, please feel free to do so.
#3: Audience Dances or Group Numbers: In some of [our] shows we grab a couple of people and bring them up on stage to participate in various stage antics. The actors will approach you during questioning to get your permission.
#4: Bit Audience Parts: The stage manager will ask if anyone in your group would like a speaking role. All of these roles have cue cards. You will have the chance to look over your lines during mingling.
#5: Questionable Characters: Sometimes, we make an audience member play a more active role as a "questionable character". In Lights...Camera...MURDER, we had an audience member play "Snoops", a member of the paparazzi. This is perfect for those who want to become a star.

I was interested in finding out what levels of participation the majority of our audiences felt comfortable with, so I put a survey on [our] website. At this point, 48.1% of people want to solve the crime through questioning, but don't want to get up on stage. 20.4% want to be very involved and go up on stage. 14.8% do not want to question the suspects and hope to figure it out just by observation. 13% want to sit back and enjoy the show and don't care about solving the crime and 3.7% like to go beyond simply asking the questions and clues provided and grill the suspects with their own. In accordance with this data, we have crafted the shows to reflect these percentages.


Commentary: "Why is it stylish now to include the audience as quasi-performers?"

Carrie Stern, The Brooklyn Eagle [NY], 9/16/11

[In] Williamsburg, the dancers of Noémie Lafrance's White Box Project mingle undistinguished from the audience. Interrupting the socializing, Fabio Tavares DaSilva butt-walks across the width of the floor, joined by a crab-walking, crawling cast. More and more, the "audience" joins the dance, 19 performers in all, to a crowded audience of about 30. This mixing is a key tool, but the conceit - audience/performer; we are the same - only lasts for a few minutes. Once identified, audience and performer remain distinct entities. Like other choreographers (and theater directors) since at least the late 1960s, Lafrance has long been troubled by the relationship between audience and performer. Why is it stylish now to include the audience as quasi-performers, even moving them from place to place? My pragmatic answer is that audience adventures create interest among non-theatergoers (and grant agencies) and therefore revenues. From an artistic standpoint, a perambulating audience moves from witness to theatrical extra or active by-stander. Last summer, New York Classical Theater's Henry V moved the audience from Castle Clinton to Governors Island, setting them running after the Battle of Agincourt like curious townspeople. But how can the audience, without verbal instruction or (necessarily) invitational gesture, be pulled further into the performance? What happens when the audience, expecting passive experience, resists participating, disconcerted by the prospect, or finds it confrontational? What about those who may be eager to participate but are unsure of the message? Or those overly eager to participate who throw off the balance of the performance, though this is rare? The tools to go further are still crude. White Box does not yet have the answers - the relationship between audience and performer is complex -but some of its experiments are a beginning. To Lafrance's credit, she is willing to open her process to the audience with post-performance discussions, an open blog, and multiple performances that will evolve and change based on audience commentary.


At a theater in Burundi, audience participation raises malaria awareness

Pawel Krzysiek, UNICEF website, 9/19/11

"Give it back!" screams an adolescent girl fighting with her father over a blue plastic bag, which contains an insecticide-treated net. "You will not sell this! Malaria is killing our babies!" Gathered around the pair, an enthusiastic crowd cheers, laughs and applauds. Welcome to Marangara - a picturesque corner of northern Burundi's Ngozi province and the setting for an open-air, interactive performance where everyone can be an actor playing the life-saving role of a mosquito net user. "The theatre gives us a chance to interact with our oppressors, who stop us from using the net as we should do," says a mother of five who is participating in the performance. "It is bad to sell [the net] only for a beer. Our husbands, brothers and cousins should learn from good examples, because the mosquito net can save us and our children," she adds. "The people of Burundi love open-space, participatory events, so we use humour, songs and role play to encourage them to join us in the show," explains Asteria Nizigiyimana of the local non-governmental organization Tubiyage, which runs the interactive theatre with UNICEF support. The idea is to challenge community taboos, misconceptions and attitudes by playing out the reality people face in their everyday lives. "The theatre is people's world, because we play their real lives and they play with us," she says. For Adel Namacumi, a shop owner in Marangara, the theatre is also a tool to fight people's ignorance. "Most people can't read or write, and they are ignorant about such important issues," he says. "I had a mosquito net before but I sold it because I didn't know how to use it. Now I know it will protect me and my family."

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