28 August 2004

Audience Studies

One of the things that I really enjoy doing during a performance is watching the audience. Obviously, this won't work from the stage, but when I'm in the house what is going on around me is just as interesting (and, God help me, sometimes more interesting) than what's going on up on the stage.

From the stage one largely sees a sea. And it really does look like the sea because what you can make out, depending on the size of the house and the choices of the lighting designer, is a lot of dark waves of people with glints from glasses like distant whitecaps. Performers want full houses of outgoing, engaged people. They want overt laughs at the funny bits. Basically, they (okay, we) want lots of positive feedback.

But here's the thing, a lot of audiences just aren't like that. Sunday matinee audiences, especially small ones, are very quiet. I call them the "post-church nappers" because they will smile at things other houses will laugh at.

But if you are sitting among them, it's easy to feel rather than hear the internal chuckle. My friend Ted doesn't always laugh, but if he is engaged, he leans forward in his seat, as if to see and hear better. I am much more of a smiler than a laugher. Neither of these carry to the stage, of course.

So I look around when I'm sitting in the house. I listen for coughs (a bad sign), I look for alert postures, I look people checking the program by the light spill from the stage. (I look things up in the program if someone on stage has gotten my attention and I want to know more about him or her. Some people simply read the program if the action on the stage can't hold their attention.) My friend Laura sits very still, a habit I admire because I do not share it. People shift around a lot or a little depending on their view.

Audience members will flag slightly after an hour and definitely by 90 minutes, but they'll come back from intermission revived.

More later. Maybe.

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