A Tender Thing: How Does Personal Experience Shape Audience Response?

Josh Sutherland, 7 October 2012

Name of the person who called the session: John Jennings

Who attended the session: John Jennings, Charles Twigger, Josh Sutherland, Bohdan, Tom Fox

We concluded as a group that personal experience and expectations of an individual completely defines the collective audience response.

John described his experience of going to see ‘A Tender Thing’ at the RSC recently. He described how the play was about an elderly couple and the man helped the woman to die. John's wife has died 4 years previously and this really struck a chord with him. He found it both cathartic and emotionally draining. He explained that once he had left the theatre he overheard a teenage girl say something along the lines of ‘what a load of rubbish’. John used this as an example to explain what he meant by the title of the session. He essentially said that it is us as individuals who make the play what it is.

Charles, on the other hand, had seen the production and sided with the teenage girl. He said that the play profoundly depressed him, and that apart from the brilliant acting, the play didn't really do anything for him. This went even further to highlight just how much John's life experience had effected his experience of the play.

We then talked about how even the people you are sat next to in the audience can affect the way we engage with a play. If the person next to you is clearly unimpressed we said that this would inevitably effect our own perspective of the play.

In addition to this, if we have had a bad day we said that we would be less likely to open up to the play. However, we also concluded that one of the best experiences you can have in theatre is entering the venue in a terrible mood, and then being so effected by the play that by the end of it you are in a jubilant mood and have completely forgotten about what it is you were so miserable about.

We then went onto discuss that a lot of the time, we as audience members have an immediate response to the play, and then a few days later we have a post-production response. We concluded that it is this ‘post-production’ response that marks a play as truly great. If a moment, an idea or a line in the play lingers in our subconscious enough for us to be ruminating on it a few days after the production, then the production has been truly succesful.

We concluded the session by asking Bodhan (a performance poet) to recite one of his poems to us. We did this in order to put our theories to the test. We as audience members came from completely different backgrounds and experiences, and as a result we reacted to the poem in greatly contrasting ways.

Tom (from a movement and dance background) commented on the rhythm of the poem and how that affected him. John commented on a particular line that had a great effect on him. I went as far to say that I could completely relate to and transport myself to the place, moment and feeling that the poem created.

In conclusion, it is one of the great beauties of theatre that there are an infinite number of interpretations, approaches, perspectives and reactions to even the most simple of plays. It is this, perhaps more than anything else, that will help ensure that theatre will continue to be made, developed and evolved.


Audience, audience, experience, Audience Response, audience response, personal experience