One thing that often gets forgotten about in theatre training is, believe it or not, the sometimes-long-suffering audience.
It’s surprising because your job as a performer is all about the people who watch you. If you are going to be any good you don’t just want to please them sometimes you want to scare them or make them laugh or make them feel sad. Most of all you want them to believe in what you are doing.
I know this because over many years I’ve seen shows for kids where they are more concerned with the words or the steps or the costume than what the audience mind be feeling. This is understandable because week to week the audience isn’t there so it’s easy to forget them. Then suddenly on the big day there they are in front of you. It’s a bit of shock if you don’t prepare for them. For one thing audiences aren’t obedient slaves who adore everything you do. They have their own lives to lead, so you shouldn’t take their interest for granted.
We’re a theatre company so we think about our audience, and we prepare for the unexpected. One of the great things about our large-scale productions is that while most of the audience are unlikely to be hostile they might be indifferent. As our audiences are largely parents of other young people why should they be interested in you? That’s great because it means you have to work at them.
In reality they are lovely. They may be a captive audience who, if asked, might prefer to be sitting at home watching TV, but they give it a go so, you have a chance to capture their attention. The secret is to have a plan. You’re not there just give them your words or moves, you’re there to engage their emotions. So it’s about how you make them laugh, or cry or be intrigued or surprised or delighted by what you do in that space. If you want the audience to engage their feelings, you have to be ready to find the feelings in yourself.
Delivering a song or a dance or a scene must have depth beyond the words and moves. An audience won’t forgive you if you are boring or if they can’t understand what you are doing. That’s time from their life they are giving you!
I can’t bear it when I look at a stage and see performers who don’t know who they are and why they are there. But when they truly know both of those things I’ll go on the journey with them and give them my full attention. I’ll get something back because they will have made me think about myself.