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  • Writer's pictureYumi La Blanca

Being at home, being in a theatre - Revisiting the theme of audienceship

We’re currently, in a way, living in a rich era in terms of performing arts - while most theatres have reopened, we can not only visit actual venues following their guidelines but also access so many productions online, including plays, music and dance. This flourish of online contents is certainly one of the few benefits from our new lifestyle of stay-at-home.

Appreciating the benefits and convenience of the new technology, however, I personally feel that this new habit has also been deteriorating our social morale as an audience.

Support the arts - what does it mean?

When the pandemic started, we saw many artists and theatrical personnels using the hashtag #SaveTheArts in social media in order to encourage the appreciation of performing arts and keep the theatres alive. Re-opening the buildings and bringing back audiences were their utmost wish to maintain our enriched theatre-going culture. Now most of the theatres have resumed, they are trying to create quality content in both live theatres and online..

What an audience can do is not just helping them financially. To me, supporting performing arts does not restrict to paying for content, on or off line. It should also include something simple - not disturbing performers and staff as well as other audience members.

Although most theatre-goers respect the hygiene measures including wearing facemasks in the venue, I was not very comfortable in my latest theatre-going experiences, mostly ballet, witnessing some audience members not only audibly talking, taking flash photography and videos, and even leaving from and returning to their seats during the performances…

Maybe there have always been such people in the past and it might have nothing to do with our experience of lockdown, but my guess is that certain people cannot switch their behaviour between being at home and being in a public theatre, anymore. Such people behave in the theatre as if they are watching online content at home with their own family, where they are free to talk and go to the loo during performances. It was especially shocking for me to witness such people in a ballet production at Royal Albert Hall, which is supposed to be a high-end venue. Hearing loud talking was particularly annoying - we were not watching TV in our living rooms…

Having pride as a good audience

I have already dealt with the theme of audienceship in the context of palmas in flamenco, in my previous post ‘Flamenco rhythms in your hands - Palmas and audienceship’ on 10th January 2021, in which I described:

…Sometime before the lockdown, you must have witnessed a few members of the audience trying to copy the hand clapping, or to ‘practise’ palmas along with the live music. This often causes a little accidental disturbance to both the artists and the rest of the audience. Nobody wants to ruin the lively atmosphere by telling someone off, but they might get ‘shhh’ from others, or politely told by the artists not to do the (unintentionally distracting) palmas during the show.

The same thing would apply to audible talking during theatrical performances - if someone could not hold voicing their (unrequired) opinion while the music and performance are still ongoing, it would not only disturb the atmosphere but also give a wrong impression t certain others who are still new to theatre-going culture. It could even put off regular theatre-goers who might not want to share the experience with such a minority of audiences. Even quiet whispering is audible in the theatrical architecture. Besides, not all live shows encourage the audience to participate in the live sounds. We can discuss, praise, or even criticise the show, AFTERWARDS.

I don’t want to be patronising, but I believe that supporting arts should also include our effort to be a ‘well-behaved’ audience. It’s something beyond your personal likes and dislikes of particular content themselves - it’s more to do with respect to others, including artists and staff as well as your fellow audiences. If you are impressed by the performance and want to voice the praise, you can hold on to it until the show ends. If you don’t like the particular performance, you can either leave very quietly or keep your mouth shut till the end, respecting other members in the venue.

Our theatre-going culture has struggled to survive. What theatres need is not only to increase the quantity but also to improve the quality of the audience - it’s up to us.

Flamenco rhythms in your hands - Palmas and audienceship (10th January 2021)


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