But I left my gloves...

'You can't come in without your ticket,' said the usher at the Roundhouse as I made my way back after the interval of Hofesh Shechter's rousing dance set. 'But but but, I've just come out of there,' I spluttered. 'I've left my coat on the seat. I've left my gloves!' Suddenly, I sounded like an Edwardian baronet. Thankfully a lovely press officer intervened and got me back inside before I could start leaving my calling card or challenging someone to a duel.

This can happen when dance leaves nice quiet theatres where everyone sips white wine in the interval and murmurs appreciatively at the programme notes. The Roundhouse is an iconic London music venue. When it does host plays, like the RSC Histories cycle, conventional theatre seating is shipped in. For too-cool-for-school choreographer Shechter, however, the evening followed gig rules. An almighty band thumped on the gantry, while most of the audience throbbed towards the stage with moshpit fervour (critics were stashed upstairs in proper seats, as we get nervous out of our familiar environment). It was undeniably exciting to see a mass of bobbing heads when lights raked over the audience, and startling when camphones and flashes lit up every few seconds. Some of the dancehouse reverence was rubbed away; and if that means ushers who take you for a gig-ligging louse, that's the price.

How far can gig rules extend into the theatre? I've not been convinced by the call for twittering, mid-performance conversation and other demonstrations of audience engagement over on Greg Sandow's ArtsJournal blog. He's talking about classical concerts, which may be a slightly different beast to theatre and dance. But even when I'm reviewing (I'm quite the scribbler), I worry that my notes might disturb my neighbours. Dramatic pauses and dance performances without any score are a particular anxiety, ready to be filled with nothing but the sound of my scritching pen. In return, I'm routinely disturbed by yawners, bellows breathers, bottom shufflers and specs tappers. I've just come back from The Flying Dutchman at the Royal Opera, an evening spotted with phone trills, sweet wrappers and a punter who unleashed a fit of bronchial krakatoa during the overture. You may feel cool as you tweet from your seat, but it's a sussurating distraction like any other.

Now, concentration doesn't always come easy. I'm as likely as anyone to think about dinner, or a catalogue of personal humiliation and inadequacy during the fallow moments of a night at the theatre. But though the silently attentive audience may be a 19th-century invention, it's not a bad one. Along with coketown capitalism, colonial hauteur and sexual repression, the bourgeoisie imposed the notion of capital-A Art, no doubt as a cover for all of the above. And also the notion that art deserved our full attention, to be met on its own terms rather than meekly fitting in with ours.

And guess what? Silence isn't a bad way to experience theatre, dance or music. Going to a play, a concert, an exhibition, like reading a book or listening to a friend in need - these activities are about putting the thrilling boom of your own ego on hold, fairly briefly, and paying attention to something else. Really, how hard is that? Can we no longer simply give consideration to something that isn't ourselves? Are the multiple sympathies of which the human mind is capable now reduced to a status message on Facebook? Maybe, instead of the apologetic list of announcements about phones, pagers and other interruptions, theatres should just hold up a big sign at the start of the show: It's Not About You.

Is the Monkey just being grouchy here, or dragging his paws? How much audience interaction can a performance take? Let me know what you think.

March 5, 2009 12:43 AM | | Comments (6) |


Ruth, thanks so much for your very kind comment. I'm really pleased you're enjoying the blog,

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Thanks for this response, Read. And I agree with you about the differing quality of engagement in an artistic event. I'm not completely naive, of course, and realise that a polite, silent audience may not necessarily be receptive - maybe they're just dull, or bored. But, at the risk of sounding evangelical, I do think that we need to put ourselves in a position where profound creative engagement with art becomes possible.

I am prone to both, but would report that the experience for me of NOT sharing during a performance is a different one, and if I have the concentration and other inner resources at hand, a more rewarding one. If I am communicating with others, even my deepest thought and feelings, I am at that time less receptive to what I could otherwise be taking in.

I'm pleased this struck a chord, Maggi - many thanks for your comment. Have you noticed a change in audiences yourself? Have you been interrupted by phones and the like? And what do you do when it happens?

"Maybe, instead of the apologetic list of announcements about phones, pagers and other interruptions, theatres should just hold up a big sign at the start of the show: It's Not About You."

Yes! This is a brilliant entry into the discourse. Thank You!

As a historian as well as a concert artist, I believe that the pendulum will swing back, but also that the current collective societal Narcissistic Personality Disorder will get worse before it gets better...

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This page contains a single entry by Performance Monkey published on March 5, 2009 12:43 AM.

Murder in the library? was the previous entry in this blog.

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