Chatting In The Gauntlet

For the discomforting performance I referenced in yesterday’s entry, we had set up a seating area on stage so that audience members could sit there and watch the performance looking out at the audience in the permanent seats. The cast referred to it as a gauntlet arrangement and from the tension it evoked, it was probably an apt description.

Can’t Talk Now, I Am Acting
Part of the performance involved the participation of “volunteers” from the audience. These people were chosen from those seated on stage and at one point, they help secure a performer in a bungee rig. An interesting thing happened. One of the volunteers started chatting with the artistic director while the bungees were being flown in about how much he had wanted to take her master class and maybe even take a dance class at the college. Striking up a conversation during the performance was a pretty strange thing to do, but the show was a little strange itself. After the show he spoke with all the cast members and even emailed the group complimenting the performance.

Those that spoke to him didn’t get the sense that he normally had problems acknowledging social boundaries. He was just really excited by his experience and wanted to talk about it.

Encourage People To Text During Your Monologue?
I started to wonder if this might be a sign of things to come as people begin to expect that the ease and immediacy of social media conversations be translated into their face to face encounters. We have already seen the negative side of this with people talking on cell phones and texting during performances. But this incident Saturday night gave me some insight into the constructive possibilities if a performance was well-designed to take advantage of these impulses.

There seems to be a growing practice at conferences that people Twitter about the speaker/panels, often with the hope that someone is monitoring the tweets and will adjust the content accordingly to either address areas of interest/questions or move past the boring parts. This sort of interactivity could be harnessed for a performance to change its direction every night.

But I wonder if there is a way to create an entirely new dynamic between performers and audiences in which a more extensive interaction than the way having people call out suggestions at improv shows transpires. I don’t know exactly how it would manifest, but I can imagine the performers would act to guide things in a general direction and integrate audience members either individually or as a collective resource.

How Sharper Than A Serpents Tooth Is A Marginalized Audience

What I am fairly certain of is that it won’t be a matter of trying to adapt what is already done to include patrons. People may find some successes, but shoehorning your audience into King Lear isn’t going to cut it in the long run. The format may evolve from current practice in stages, but I think it will depart from it eventually.

The success of this idea hinges on the guy from this weekend being a sign of things to come where people are less self-conscious about stepping forward to become involved in social interactions in general rather than an outlier. Given that those who watch YouTube videos far outstrip those who contribute, I don’t expect self-consciousness to ever erode so far that everyone will want to be up on stage.

Fits With Other Trends
It occurs to me that a situation where those with training/greater experience in the arts act to guide those with less dovetails well with other trends we have been hearing about. It would allow Pro-Ams to become more involved and pursue their interests if greater opportunities existed. If arts people became more adept at directing people without arts training in various activities, then perhaps they will gain the requisite skills to drive the creative economy we are told is emerging.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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