Recently I was asked for some thoughts and red flags for moments of “casual” performance and audience interaction. This is a slightly edited version of what I wrote, in case it can be of use to anyone else.
First, I mostly try to replace “casual” with “conversational” these days, since there’s little about casual about it.
Key (but general) thoughts might include:
Allow - don’t generate. This is a specific kind of improv note really. Let what is happening happen - let it play on the face and body and voice and heart. As a performer, I find my Viewpoints, hosting and clown-through-mask experience helpful in this if dialled way down to awareness and acceptance.
You are always performing There can be a refusal to approach repeatable systems (like jokes or clear language) in a misguided authenticity claim. It’s still a show, you’re still a performer. You have some skills to cope with the craziness of being in front of a crowd and everyone being ok with that. It’s ok to allow those skills as well. (Viewpoints, clown, hosting - as above)
Do unto others. +20% for subjective variation This is part “make the show you want to attend” and part “how would you like it if.” Making Dedicated to the Revolutions (the main experience I have with “audience participation”) - we all agreed that we hated audience participation. Given that, what were we ok with? Mostly the answer was doing things that left the audience members autonomy intact and avoided humiliation that wasn’t requested. Also, Frank was very good at this, so he did the heavy lifting.
Some other lessons learned from Revolutions
Any time we said “Another interesting thing we found while working on this show…”: we shouldn’t have. We cut 15 minutes of that kind of crap after the first run and nobody was sad.
People can make jumps with you, too much work on complicated transition talking is rarely helpful for anyone.
Momentum matters. As does dramaturgical rhythm and drive. These don’t have to look all well-made-play or Canadian “all the threads connect in the end” but think about the experience of the audience and their attention.
Jonathon Burrows: “Not only must things change, but the rate at which things change must change.”
Emotion matters. (important: see “Allow, don’t generate”) The songs carried much of the emotion in the show, but there were other places we let it through and it was important.
If people want to research information, they’ll go to the library (or use google, who are we kidding) - they come to the theatre for something other than that. Maybe: For people, not so unlike them, trying to overcome an obstacle (“how do we talk about progress and science as non-experts”) and being reasonably entertaining while doing it (i.e. caring about the audiences experience)
ok… that’s a long list of generalness. Let me know if it’s useful of if there are specific thoughts.
You can also join me in seeing Architect Theatres' This is the place: The CN Tower Show at Theatre Passe Muraille (click here for more) to see how they dealt with things like this. I had a great time this summer with Georgina and Greg and am looking forward to seeing what they all came up with.