The rise of an 'active audience'


You see it all the time as an arts journalist in Flyoverville meeting with people trying to form a new performing arts group — the worry on their faces.

Bright, talented, and clearly energized actors and singers fret about where they’re going to perform in a city that’s increasingly facing a paucity of venues, like Charleston, S.C.

One such group here is the Little City Musical Theatre Company. It’s concerned about being homeless, about being unable to market the theater’s quality work, about being unable to cultivate an audience, because, you know, the audience wouldn’t know where to find them for lack of a permanent venue.

It’s a reasonable concern. Having a theater is probably better than not. But I wonder if a group like Little City might have an advantage. I wonder if being smaller, nimbler, more mobile, and more media-savvier might be just the traits needed to survive, and perhaps thrive, in the 21st century, as we witness the rise of what arts administrators are calling the “active audience.”


Fifty years ago, you went to the theater, sat down in the dark, watched a play, clapped, and went home. You didn’t interact. You didn’t engage. You were passive. And that was fine. Now, more than two decades into the digital era, active participation is the paradigm of the age. To quietly receive a performance, as if it were a church sermon, seems almost antiquated.

That’s because we are otherwise engaged in the act of making more than ever before, privately (knitting circles, book groups, community choirs) and publicly (YouTube, Wordpress, Make Magazine). Viral video, instant communications, and social networking have fueled this urge. The orthodoxy of DIY marginalized in the 1980s is now the center of the 21st century.

Culture used to be controlled by its producers — in particular, mass media culture like broadcast television, Hollywood movies, daily newspapers — but increasingly it’s controlled by consumers. New technologies promulgated a shift in power, and with that shift has come a change of behavior: Instead of waiting for Katie Couric to read the news, we’re now getting it for ourselves.

In other words, we are searching.

Read the whole post at Charleston City Paper.

August 11, 2008 6:50 AM | | Comments (0)


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by FlyOver published on August 11, 2008 6:50 AM.

Access to opera makes more opera fans? Brilliant! was the previous entry in this blog.

Another reason to stop buying CDs. It ain't green. is the next entry in this blog.

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