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Monday, 20 February 2017

Rules and options

I’m on the train on the way home from YOU, THE AUDIENCE at The Royal Exchange in Manchester.

It was a great day of provocations, conversations and performances – thinking out loud about our relationship – as artists, companies, buildings and institutions – with the people who come and see/watch/listen to/participate in the work – people who are often called ‘audience’, though today even that was up for question.

There were some great provocations – which I believe the Royal Exchange will be gathering together/posting at some point. I ran a session called INVITING ANSWERS, about some of the ways we (in Third Angel) have conversations with audiences and participants in order to hear and retell their stories, either in the process of making the shows, or in the performances themselves. I adapted The Chapters Game (which we invented as part of making The Lad Lit Project) into something that, instead of me running in a research or workshop context, a small group can play on their own, with a set of prompt cards. I think it went well – certainly people seemed to enjoy it.

At the end of one of the afternoon break out sessions a thought clarified itself for me, but too late to be able say it. (Though I did get to chat to Andy Smith and Annabel Turpin about it afterwards - both of whom also gave cracking provocations - thanks to both of them for listening to me think out loud). 

There had been some discussion of the rules or etiquette of theatre spaces and buildings, and how they can put people off coming – because they don’t know how they’re meant to behave. (I think this is pretty widely acknowledged now…).

But what if we think of it this way? They’re not The Rules. They’re a set of options that we give to audiences. Every time we create a show, every time the audience come (in) to a performance, we have created a set of options for them. The most common set of options might well be: sit in the dark, watch, listen, engage, think, but don’t verbally of physically join in. They are so common in fact that many people think of them as rules. But they’re not the ‘default option’ – we’ve still decided at some point in the making process (whether we noticed ourselves do it or not) that those were the ‘options’ that we were offering to the audience with this particular show.

So, when we decide on a different set of options (which may include all of those first possibilities, but might also include reading out some text when asked, contributing their own story, moving around the space to give themselves a different view point, making eye contact with performers or other audience members, sitting in a car and lighting the action with their own headlights, getting on a train with the performers…) we have to be sure that we communicate those options to the audience clearly. What they can do, and also whether or not they can “just” sit and watch, too (because as several people said today, some audience members are very happy with that). We might communicate those options on the publicity materials, out in the foyer when they arrive, or in the performance itself – whatever is appropriate.

Because if we do that, perhaps more audience members will be able to turn up to shows, not assuming there will necessarily be seats to sit on and that they will have to sit attentively but quietly in the dark, but wondering what options they will be offered tonight, what the layout will be, what their relationship with the performers will be.

Anyway. A good day. And that’s what I’m thinking about on the train home.

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