top of page
  • Molly Scarborough

Are audience members shifting from passive to active?

Is the audience shifting from passive to active? Is social media a rival for theatre? Are we blurring the boundaries between the live and the mediatised? Can the mediatised be live?

The audience decides what shows are about, whether they had a good time and whether performances were worth their time and money. Why are the unspoken rules of theatre there to keep our audiences quiet? Up until recently, I believe, our audiences have been told to be passive. To sit down, shut up and listen. However, I believe, our unspoken rules in theatre are changing, shifting from passive to active. Enabling audiences to have opinions, to breathe and to respond.

Not only has the advancement in mobile technology and the enhancement of the Internet allowed audience members to freely voice their opinions through social media (predominately Twitter and hashtagging), other forms of performance (which are now becoming more commercialised) allow this to happen during the actual performance as well. Other forms of performance like Relaxed Performances and endurance performances. These frameworks challenge the unspoken rules of performance and what is expected from both performer and audience member.

With the introduction of twitter as a medium for communication between spectators and performers, a number of opportunities have been provided to allow more audience participation compared to the traditional theatre format. A physical audience is largely passive in nature, unable to really interact with the performers throughout the performance event and only given a short opportunity to offer feedback and to communicate with both performers and fellow audience members. During a performance it is somewhat of a faux pas to do anything other than sit politely and observe, unless expected to do otherwise, further disallowing expression of opinion. However, the growth of Twitter as a forum for discussion, allows people to bypass these social conventions and instantaneously provide an opinion or viewpoint without the fear of disrupting the show. Likewise, the anonymity provided behind a computer screen allows people to be more honest in their responses without the worry and risk of retribution for offering an opinion that may offend the performers or even other audience members, and thus Tweeters may become more active in offering said opinions.

Cabaret style performances bypass the normal social conventions of theatre. Cabaret style performances incite laughter, cheer and shouting. However this is what is expected from a cabaret style performance therefore it isn’t necessarily challenging the social conventions within the theatre. Figs in Wigs however, have done something interesting. In their performance of “Show Off’ they have integrated the use of Twitter throughout their performance, the use of the anonymity of the screen, the use of both separation and assembly. Through this they have both taken the focus off of themselves and placed it on themselves at the same time. They have averted the real time physical audiences focus to Twitter and invited the Twitter world in.

The 24 hour long endurance performance of Quizoola (#Quizoola24, 2014) by Forced Entertainment allows its audiences to become active. This 24 hour long performance could also be accessed by live stream, in real time, as well as at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield from midnight on the 21st November 2014 to midnight on the 22nd November 2014. It could be argued that the performance Quizoola! is reverting theatre back to the amphitheatre, where the audience could boo and chant freely. Quizoola! promotes sleep and allows its audience to come and go as they please, heading back to the behaviour that the theatre of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had tried so hard to eradicate by disciplining their audiences.

Forced Entertainment can be seen, with the performance of Quizoola!, as trying to break down the unspoken rules of the theatre by gifting the physical audience with a blindfold. Quizoola! gives the audience a freedom they aren’t necessarily used to. However the live stream and the Twitter feed offer something that has been banned from theatre, it allows you to boo and chant, to speak out loud, to lay down, to shout your answers out at home. The live stream permits the audience to do as they wish more so than the physical event itself.

The importance of performance is that it is live and ephemeral. Performance is fleeting and it’s something that you can only experience in the moment. Of course there can be many variations of performance, and an archive of a performance can be produced so as to reach a different audience that is other than the live audience… But,

Can you still have the same ‘in the moment’, fleeting experience through a live stream of a live performance event that is happening in real time?

Again, I think so.

People took to Twitter in 2014 armed with the #Quizoola24 hashtag. The audience at home had the most freedom of all. They could watch the live performance whilst on their way to work, whilst brushing their teeth, whilst laying in their own bed and they could also thoroughly take part in the live archiving event under the #Quizoola24 hashtag. The present physical audience of Quizoola could, of course, also partake in this live archiving event of the performance…However they still wouldn’t quite be able to do it as freely as the audience at home (or wherever they were!). The present physical audience would still feel bound by politeness, “just because you’re allowed to have your phone out doesn’t mean that you should!”

#Quizoola24 was a live stream of important bits chosen by the audience, being archived as the performance continued on. It offered the audience to be more active, it allowed the audience to converse in real time whilst the performance was happening. And now that archive is frozen in time, online, under #Quizoola24 on Twitter.

Is it possible to be able to not feel obligated to sit there and be quiet, in silence?

Or is not doing so just plain rude?

We are of a time that when people are talking loudly on a train, it's considered a crime…

We are of a time that when someone’s child is crying, the child is a nuisance and out of control…

We are of a time that when someone laughs for too long during a film, they are annoying…

We are of a time that when someone expresses themselves, in any way, shape or form, it’s simply not okay.

When really we should be allowed voice our opinions, we should be allowed to walk out, sleep or cry.

Of course we shouldn’t turn up to purposefully fall asleep…

But as an audience member we shouldn’t be made to feel trapped and powerless.

bottom of page