Audience & Effect: What ways can we develop the role(s) of the audience in/with performance.

Convener: Zoe Klinger,


Zoe Waterman, Chris Gage, Siret Paju, Karen Coran, Charlotte Bond, John Hale, Sarah Jane Conzens, Agnes Bamford, Oyuind Vada, Ginnie Stephens, Anna barrett, Paron Mead, Hannah Rowlands, Dan Coleman, Suasanna Eastburn, Peader Kirk, Cassandra Harwood, Emily Kate Lewis, Ruth Ben-Tovin, David Rosonbery, Aimee Corbett, Rachel Parish, TU Honcen, and others (due to handwriting interpretation means spelling of names may be awry - & please add your name if you didn't get a chance to add it at the session)

Summary of discussion, questions raised, conclusions and/or recommendations:


  • Need to be aware of audience preconceptions and expectations, and think how these can be altered positively
  • Is it OK for an audience to react vocally in a conventional theatre situation - are they allowed to shout ‘rubbish’ at the end - how can we channel feedback better?
  • Sometimes it is inappropriate and disconcerting for the audience when someone does it within 'conventional' theatre today.
  • Site specific - easier/less challenging to channel audience reaction & participation
  • Environment has direct affect on the audience – informing how to behave (in a church, a theatre, a gallery, a burnt out building,…)
  • Performance in a gallery - non linear & enigmatic, not necessarily providing an 'end point'
  • Performance in a theatre - may not be linear or have any close resemblance to a narrative structure, but requires a journey, and through-line, closure... even if the audience is left with a question
  • Performance that is durational and stops and starts and the audience comes and goes...
  • It can be trickier to generate the ownership by audience if the performance is contained within the theatre – because of the perception that conventions are immovable.
  • Taking it into location unannounced - Forum theatre – Boal


  • Performer's responsibility to engage & communicate with the audience - this skill has been ‘lost’ in most theatre performance today.
  • Relating to the audience & acknowledging their presence is the crucial step towards the interaction.
  • How to step up the contract with the audience
  • Train performers to engage with heckling
  • How can we interact beforehand to set it up
  • Geographical context – knowing where to locate and how to communicate with that particular demographic in language / methods they understand
  • Speak to them… Not at them
  • Triggers, throw down the gauntlet, have to have performers to be willing, able, to deal with the come back from the audience
  • Dealing with an ‘out of control audience’ – being able to guide them
  • ‘Phoney interaction’ is the devil: giving closed questions to which there is only a single outcome. Talking at an audience member under the guise of it being a one to one address, or, failing to acknowledge the response as it takes the performance off track
  • If you have invited potential for an out of control audience – plan on it happening – how to deal with it: allowing them to do what has been invited
  • Avoid falling into trap of tom foolery - disguising thin material with gimmick
  • Provide a strong structure to withstand mutiny
  • A toured play is repeated, allowing for the audience at each new venue to have an influence on the play (the tone of it shifting as they respond in a different way, laugh at a bit that was never previously laughed at…), have a strategy to embrace these changes. (ref. The audience lives)

AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE: commercial v. subsidised 'avant garde' theatre

  • These things are happening in experimental theatre ... but how can it be opened up in commercial theatre
  • Setting up the situation that the audience are all part of it - for real - provide familiar things for them to do.
  • Commercial concerts/gigs, you are not sitting, phones are on, you can talk, wander & return, is there a way to take the essence of a gig atmosphere into the theatre experience.
  • Music/gigs – use of amplification, trance state
  • Acknowledge different audience profile: Commercial [Mass] theatre v. Experimental [Niche] theatre v. Non-theatre going [New Audience] - approach them through different channels


  • Take advantage of it being live
  • First time the audience is thought of audience is quite often at the point where the box-office is opened for bookings. When organisation is trying to sell the tickets.
  • The focus is often on ticket selling and still not the individuals that make up an audience.
  • Discussion of ‘The Oak Tree’ by Tim Crouch – in which performers are guided by the director through ear mikes – because performers do not know what to expect and because the audience can sometimes hear the director’s instructions,  the audience become unusually empathetic with the people on stage.
  • Quality will always dictate audience attendance (unless they don’t come as no-one said it was happening)
  • Second company first – make a performance that the audience come up with on the night
  • Community theatre – developing it with the community for the community
  • Inviting the audience in to the development and rehearsal process
  • Repeating structures with new audiences, reincarnation of context – generating new content – a different performance, theatre encounter with each new audience.
  • Ruth discussed using the frame of performing in a high street shop. She invented a structure in which the role’s and distinctions of audience and performer where side-stepped e.g. gifting; contributing  and receiving. The shop front was seen as a great example of particular location providing the cues to a set of expectations for the likely participants.
  • Zoe discussed a piece where she and other performers had moved through the audience telling their characters stories 1:1 with the audience. The plot moved forward by trigger action negotiated with the audience e.g. somebody agrees to buy one of the performers a drink.
  • A Norwegian performer discussed his practice –based on open space principles and working with up to 500 people at a time – during which the frame of the performance gradually shifted until the audience became more and more involved. He discussed the necessity of being a facilitator of such a performance
  • Again, another way forward is to create parts for the audience in the play, where they can easily succeed: e.g. where they narrative dictates that they need not to be particularly good at the task/role in hand.
  • Peader introduced the idea of de-roling the audience from their existing theatre role (which attempts to both confine and protect the audience).
  • Perhaps you de-role an audience by emotionally moving/touching them. Creating an opportunity to de-role or re-role for the audience (offering mask, costume, an idea, a setting, other,…)
  • Use of technology – providing anonymity for audience interaction


  • Our USP (unique selling point) – is that it is *live*.
  • We often refer to a good, bad, surprising 'they laughed in a different place this evening' audience. This rarely happens in other art-forms.
  • Treating the audience as a collective of Individuals, as opposed to the many headed beast.
  • Important to make them comfortable.
  • Choose a venue according to what you expect to be able to fill - audience members are more likely to return if they feel like they are at an well subscribed event. Do something in tune with their needs.
  • Welcome them at the door (like a maitre d' does at a restaurant - familair behaviour in a restaurant, why not do it in theatre), thank them for being there - 'for their custom'.
  • People won’t come back to the theatre if they are bored - good to involve ways to engage them more.
  • After show items – opportunity for a two way dialogue
  • Creating opportunity for the audience to have an investment in the performance (the circus comes to town)
  • Education of the young,
  • not relying on enlightened teachers and adults to educate them that theatre is fun and accessible
  • gaining loyalty in a brand from an earlier age – they grow up with the venue, with the company.
  • Developing loyalty over X years, from local to national etc – it takes time, commitment and dialogue
  • Challenge the culture that theatre encounters are fun, and not only an opportunity to go and have ‘a bit of culture’ for the evening
  • Reaching a new unexpecting audience: ‘that was great (was that theatre)’
  • Touring – you are dealing with different cultures as you go from place to place (age, location, etc)


  • At an hour in, John Hale observed that what was present in all the discussion was a need to hand onto control and that, in a sense we had been discussing how to control the ways in which we might lose control. Haunting the discussion is this theme of 'handing over control' - can we, should we, what are we afraid of?
  • A need to retain control - rarely does anyone do a performance where the outcome is completely unknown – quality affected…
  • While non-theatre based performance can be open ended, Theatre needs closure for the audience experience ... or does it?
  • Are we able to give ownership to the audience  (ref. football chants etc)
  • Can the performer become the audience?
  • Can the audience become the performer?
  • How effective is the theatre – is the structure strong enough to withstand such control switching.
  • When we talk, converse, it is unplanned. Providing the premise for a dialogue – how open ended can it be without derailing the content…
  • Empowering the audience member – give power within a framework
  • Can the audience have more control than the performer and it still work. It is a challenge but can work – in modules, within the overall frame for instance
  • An important question it was agreed, was; when you create something for somebody, who chooses and on what grounds do they choose? There is a potential status problem when performers create and pass on something to an audience. The moment there’s an art, there’s an ‘us to them’. It is possible on the other hand to design something and remain the author of it even though the audience have control.


  • Ref. Boal - forum theatre; Duckie Class Act;
  • Include the audience in fictional scenario/frame – colluding with the audience.
  • Played upon without being manipulated
  • General public will understand that a company/venue will engage more or less interactively – if the brand carries that message through previous productions/marketing
  • So often it doesn’t deliver (doesn’t have story/strong structure to withstand the power of the audience intervention that is invited).
  • Inverting expectations to shine a light on things (an issue etc)
  • Have an influence on the outcome – like voting on Big Brother, Strictly com dancing, etc
  • Zoe mentions changing audience contract by meeting them before they reach the designated performance space; whether in the foyer or by individual earlier ‘phone call.
  • Moving away from the consumer model: Perhaps there can be ‘nothing here to get’ for an audience – and instead things happen and are done in response to an emergent and mutual context.



  • People speculated about whether this meant that what was required, was highly structured participatory events, where the outcome is uncertain.
  • From an artist’s perspective, someone discussed the danger of audience interaction becoming an act of professionals curating the offer to join in.
  • The Norwegian performer introduced the concept of ‘emergence’ that which comes from an audience by the author’s design, but at the same time cannot be known beforehand and therefore the system must adjust to what emerges.


  • Somebody made the comparison with football = a main difference between the audience attention in theatre and in football is that in football, the outcome is nearly always in doubt.
  • Comparison to the success of football as an audience experience is frequent.
  • Football is a game not a performance – rules & an outcome – no matter what the content of the 90 mins.
  • Something about games – the audience knows what their part in it is.
  • There is a language for spectator sport – for chants and the have freedom to change their chants – they own the team, the game, the language of expression
  • Tribal
    • It is the audience themselves that are the community
    • Loyalty to the brand
    • Have a uniform (formally or culturally)



  • Performance art, live art...
  • Theatre
  • Performance
  • Theatre is an art form named after a building. 
  • Is a potential audience put off by the term theatre due the mis- or pre- conception of elitism.
  • Why do we shy from calling new theatre 'theatre'. 
  • Beware of theatre needing to be renamed (redefined as say live art) because we are afraid of not being able to break through the glass wall of conventional theatre between audience and performer.
  • Working with the audience – allowing them to define their experience (not so helpful for marketing, unless you can market to specific demographics within the audience according to geography, niche, etc)
  • We discussed the importance of the frame through which an event is seen by the audience; there is no need to call it ‘theatre’; perhaps what you call it depends on who your talking to. Zoe, for example, would wait and see if the other person would define it, so that she did not need to. The definition being different from individual to individual.


  • How to carry through intimate interactions and then scale them according to different set ups
  • How to deal with commissions for a different venue – different size… different location
  • Incremental development / frames shifting to allow the scale to shift involving the audience.
  • Have process and form in which the content can develop
  • Introduce easy accessible models/activity/frames for an audience to do it – and then orchestrate the performance – the ‘doing’ by the audience.


  • Myspace
  • YouTube
  • Blogging
  • Other…


VIRTUAL THEATRE: where avatar is both performer and audience

  • Peader Kirk pointed out that, if we go by what the audience chooses, then most recently, they have chosen interactive personal computer games. To which a heated response ensued, with the overall consensus being that [a] this is largely due to marketing (though some online shareware games grow through viral usage) [b] this can be see as a different medium.
  • In online community gaming "Second Life" a play was performed... to which audience avatars were present. (it has 1 million users at Last ‘count’)