How (and why) can we ask audiences to act?

Tassos Stevens, 4 February 2013


Ilinca Radulian, Tom Frankland, Kate O'Connor, Richard Jaques, Wanda Duszynska,

Eva Liparova, Hannah Sharkey, Rachel Briscoe, Jaye Kearney, Lucy Foster, Geoff

Williams, Hannah Nicklin, Pat Ashe, Honour Bayes, Niki Karali, Amy Liptrett, James

Hadley, Mark Maughan, S Bones, Dan Ford, Aliki Chapple, Grace Gummer and



This was a three-pronged question, asking about:

* the kind of work we might call ‘interactive’ that asks its audience to play or take an

active role (I'm one of Coney which is one company making work like this)

* the kind of work we might call political theatre, and what it does with its audience

* the kind of work we might call activism, where performance and play might more

directly seek to change

I was interested in the potential overlap between these prongs as much as how they

were distinct, what each might teach the other. I'm coordinating a series of open

events which Coney is hosting at CPT in March which examine this question (email

[email protected] if you're interested to find out more).

A question of defining terms. Interactive might refer to navigational, conversational,

generative, some where there is influence over the event/story as a whole, some

where there is only influence over the audience's experience of it. Each level has a

different set of affordances. Do bodies in the world have also these same levels?

Someone wondered if this were the session to get audiences to advocate for theatre

itself. It wasn't.

Talk of Incitement, a street game by Splash & Ripple, which provoked its audience to

revolt against the game itself.

What happens to make this kind of action a meaningful choice?

Good theatre makes a process of reflection happen in its audience. Is that reflection

enough to empower an audience to be confident to act afterwards?

Interactive theatre sometimes doesn't leave that space for reflection.

3rd Ring Out by metis took its audience into a container and presented them with a

fictional emergency situation where they had to decide how to avert climate disaster

as systems started to break down. It was totally interactive. Afterwards, audience

taken into another container where presented with clear information about real climate

change scenarios. Is this format of active play + presentation a good way?

The barriers to action might be a sense of a lack of confidence, a perceived ignorance

about the situation.

The word COAX cropped up a lot. How to coax an audience into deciding that they

can and should act.

A question of audience… not a homogenous mass, really more useful to talk about the

different constituencies of people that make up your audience and what each might


The question becomes How can I help audiences to realise that they are able to act?

A clamour to bring back Spitting Image. It had an impact in changing the brand of

certain public figures and swerving popular discourse about politics. A question if the

action of laughter then lets audience off the hook of doing anything else.

'Why are you talking to me?' might be the question that audience have. How to give

them confidence that's ok. How not to Ask with a capital A, but to find the curved way

in, coax them to find their own way.

Is it about stepping back and listening - to create a space where people can then step


It's about being an agency which which is a host, with an ethics of listening and

hospitality, and making a space for generosity.

A sense of empowerment leads to action. Will my footprint leave a mark? So a

question of scope and scale too.

Reflection might lead to recognition of your presence in a system and then implicate

you as a consequence - you are in the microcosm of the system. How to see before

you reflect and act.

Implication is tricky as it might put people on the spot.

How can you change perspective and scale - circumstance's As If It Were The Last

Time, where you dance with a partner in public space and suddenly see everyone else

in the audience, previously invisible, also dancing.

How to spread the thinking behind it? Stories are powerful, of course.

Someone describes herself as a 360-day-a-year vegetarian, the novelty of which is an

invitation to act, to ask a question.

This reminds me of the brilliant Nina Simon (whose book The Participatory Museum is

very useful on these questions) and her design challenge to make an object which

could be left in public space with the objective of provoking a conversation among


A request for people's experience of pieces which had made them feel they ciould act

and why they were effective

Ten BIllion, a performance lecture. Because it presented undressed facts, his

presence not begging but simply stating facts, laying it out there.

Made some feel depressed, others empowered to make the most of the time we have

and help that be comfortable.

3 plays which made someone then attend her first protest on climate change.

A piece by Shared Experience, which made someone choose to cut her hair off as a

personal action, ‘something I can do’.

A piece where the audience were shown an AK47, and how to put it together, and at

the end you could have your photo taken with it and printed out: an artefact that

provokes discussion.

A letter written to myself and then received later.

Ask the converse question, why not? Why don't people act?

Capitalism makes us very tired, there's a lot fighting for our attention. How do we help

audiences be less tired?

Reality TV shows get a huge vote, why do people do that?

Because their vote makes a difference. Because it helps tell a story and it's easy to

see what that story is.

It uses the phone and you can vote hear and now - leaping over the practical logistics

of election voting - get your electoral card, go to your polling station etc - which might

act as a barrier.

There's a story around voting you can join in by pressing a button. It creates a story

matrix of your action.

It's not tiring.

It has consequences.

There is a sense of community or tribalism (around particular candidates)

There is an immediacy while it's happening around you.

It makes you feel good.

The common factor in participation is that it leaves a gap for people to fill. Where it's

clear where the gap leads and how it is recognised.

Theatre is about sitting and looking. What are the rules of it all… you sit back and we'll

entertain you.

To act in life is somehow to break the rules, after identifying them.

Education systems which ask us to find ays to act together.

Charlier Saffrey, stand-up, on how a speaker is a leader, always accountable to an

audience, as a part of political discourse

Joshua Safaer - project on leadership, leaders when accountable get a lot done (how

artists feel uncomfortable with that)

How to be an elder, with a certain panache

Audiences know that in every piece there is a formula of interaction which exists - so

what's the game plan? the rules of engagement how do you be a good player?

HN talked about Coney's Early Days, which might invite its audience to break the

game of a political system - do they then invent that which follows for the next

performance, a play of legacy?

How to deprogramme your audience and take them out of conventional patterns. It

needs to be a gentle and convivial space.

Anxiety about the rules of engagement, can make a perfornace anxiety.

Empower the actor to make better decisions in the face of audience uncertainty.

The Architects by Shunt… the labyrinth (only interactive part of the show, not that

that's a problem) is a very gentle space with no fear but excitement about making right

and wrong turns. A lack of information about where is right to go (unless you spot the


Bullet Catch… takes one audience and puts them in the position where asked to shoot

him for the bullet catch; if audience makes the choice and is confident enough to say

not, then won't act. There is a contingency and it's truly dangerous.

Work can be scared of its audience if not prepared for that contingency.

The Factory, horrible piece by Badac that shouted at its audience if they did the wrong


Someone had a bad experience in 2.8 Hours Later recently where forced back by


Nic Green's Trilogy

shared an image of an advertising campaign

framing it in a new performative context made you pay better attention and re-see it in


it's important to bring something to the surface and give it a weight.

the world could be changed and how can you change it?

the action has to come from inside

to put into a childlike state, where you're still learning rather than knowing everything

someone who works in corporate drama, where forum theatre has an impact from

unfamiliarity, delivered in portable interactive workshop.

a workshop is safer, there is no audience, it comes to you - a purer form of interaction

that can surprise people

in schools, kids are often resistant to forum - ‘you’re trying to teach me something'

an audience is never passive in theatre, they are always a part of asking questions,

what are their actions

one can be bored just walking around, how to stimulate the imagination and keep

them asking questions

they are also taking part in the communal experience of watcjomg

there's a beautiful communal moment, just before something starts, where the

audience fall silent and start falling silent in response to each other doing so

'we're in a space together' is expressed by the action of silence and stillness together.

it's an act of readiness.


Community, interactive, Theatre, Audience, coaxing, communal, political, Interactive,

engagement, audience, community, activism, theatre