Convener: Véronique Van Meerbeek Participants: Michelle Frost, Carolyn Graham, Mark Conway, David McGroarty


It is up to the performers to use several ‘style’ tools to directly address the audience and allow them to get involved. It is only possible for the performers to do so if they are totally truthful to themselves. It will generate a deeper communication on stage and with the audience. Certain types of performance are more open than others in their ‘content’; this also increases the potential engagement of the audience.

Session report

In Africa, the audience is part of the performance. It’s like the Peter Brook’s practice of dialogue between the audience and the stage. In Africa, from birth to death, people go through several rite passages. Theatre can be a part of an initiation. Theatre in the West is more about competition and about who will have the main role. In the West, there is a lack of initiations, a lack of marking passages. They could be theatre. One would need a large company to do it. In the West, churches are a place for celebration, a platform. They are hosting ‘theatrical’ events, i.e. singing/dancing together. These events are about the transcendence of the mundane, like theatre. If we look at live football matches, they are interesting as a personal experience and involvement, shared with thousands of other people. What if the audience could ‘tell’ the story with us? Through their imagination.

How to involve audience members without telling them off? In a church, you know what your role is. People can get confused about what they are allowed to do as audience members of theatre show. Not all the excitement should be for the company alone, it should also be for the audience. Like for the football matches, theatre should offer the pleasure of the mass experience as well as the pleasure of the personal experience. How to turn it up? As examples of audience involvement, some shows re-enact dreams of the audience. This can speak to everyone, specially when the actors themselves have had a personal experience in abandoning themselves to it. At this period of time, the ego experience is highly valued. People are endlessly looking for new self-centred experiences, indulging themselves, enjoying personalised experiences. Theatre can also offer pleasurable ego experiences. They should be promoted. It is something specific a live performance can offer. Fans are essential in football performance; they feed it. The same phenomenon occurs in comedies and musicals. These forms easily ‘take’ the audience. In theatre, opinion can get in the way. For example, a David Hare’s play is quite elitist and addresses a very narrow audience. The play is simply reiterating what they already thought.

Like Phelim says, sending love to the other artists on stage and to all the seats is making the performance a deeper experience. When artists tell a story, they are healing something within themselves. The more true it is, the more you can share it. It is felt on stage and makes the show a deep experience for the artists and the audience. To make a deep connection with the audience, be true/honest to yourself as an artist. It is important to have an awareness of why this text or this theme was chosen by the company, it can be then be shared with the audience, as opposed to a ‘concept’ for a show that can only lead to a cold experience. We are talking here about making a spiritual theatre. We should re-educate the kids/the audience to feel free when attending the show. One way to involve the people is to directly address the audience and eventually make a joke about the style of the show/of the writing. It is about breaking conventions to tell the audience they can be part of the event.

In the past people were eating, chatting, doing all sorts of things when attending a performance (music…). And people were passionate about it. There could be riots about a piece of music. We should be encouraging the audience to be part of the event. How to make a pantomime audience of a straight audience? How to transform a passive audience into an active audience? We could encourage the audience by making them a ‘role’ and speak to them. The audience is trained not to respond. It is ours to involve them. Isn’t catharsis about resolution? About the message? We argued in the group about whether the performance is or is not about delivering a message. There is a difference between showing the choice of a character that the audience can agree or disagree with, and imposing a message. The example of Butoh is given to illustrate the possibility for the performance to be very deeply moving because it is beyond messages or beyond metaphors. It has a UFO effect: it deeply moves the sub-conscious mind without the conscious mind being able to articulate what happens. It is talking at a ‘dreamland’ level (see Arnold Mindell). One raises the difficulty of eliminating the ego in ourselves to just be simple, like in Butoh. It is a (psycho-)physical process, not an intellectual one. It allows a performance full of gaps that the audience can fill. Touching people in a dream level is difficult in this country where people are in their heads/practical/literal. Like for this Open Space event, we should prepare our audience and tell them to “be prepared to be surprised”. One way could be to establish a meditative sequence/a musical moment to help to put the audience in the state for an inner voyage. One argues that this type of deeper communication / sharing with the audience could be easier with certain forms of theatre. One replies that it is ours to change the norm. If what the performers are doing on stage is achieving ‘tasks’, it is possible for them to incorporate the reaction of the audience and let it affect the performance. It is not possible if the performance is about doing the ‘perfect’ version of a text, for example.