Convener(s): David Jubb

Participants: Helen Ainsworth, Stephen Hodge, Jon Beedell, Cheryl Price, Bia Oliveria, Judith Knight, Gerard Bell, Natalie Schwartz, Lucy Foster, Guy Dartnell, Nathan Curry, Jim Pope, Sheila Hannon, Lucinda, Richard Hayhoa, Catherine Eccles

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

This was the first standing-up discussion I had attended. What follows is a subjective record of our discussion. There were some great people with some great ideas. Interestingly the discussion got quite heated, with some raised voices and profuse sweating.

Introduction given to the session:
“The thing I am most devoted to and most disgruntled about in theatre is the live (and sometimes dead) relationship between artist and audience. Defining that relationship as the space in between audience and artist – what happens in the bit in between. Three examples of the relationship paraphrased from three theatre artists:
i. Toby Jones – “I’m interested in what happens when there’s a noise off stage or if an actor drops something they shouldn’t” – theatre comes alive when it goes wrong.
ii. Ridiculusmus – “Our work dances along a tightrope of what the audience will and will not accept” – Ridiculusmus’ work is brilliant example of where there is a live ever changing relationship between artist and audience.
iii. Alex Murdoch (Cartoon de Salvo) – “It’s really important that we work for our audience, to engage them” – theatre should work for its audience to initiate their engagement not the other way round.
The reason why I am interested in this relationship between artist and audience is because I think it is the thing that defines theatre and live performance – it’s the usp – it’s it. And when it works I fall in love with an artist, or the ideas they articulate, or the world they create, and I go to the theatre to find new people or ideas that I’d like to hang out with. Rubbish theatre covers up its mistakes or its shortfalls, refuses to play a game with its audience or expects its audience to make the first move.”

The discussion kicked off with general agreement that the relationship was something worth talking about, valuing and understanding. The discussion then circled around TWO central questions.

1. Does the setting for theatre define the relationship between artist / audience relationship?

We talked about theatre in the street, in sites, at the National Theatre, in the West End, as part of political rallies, festivals and the theatre of our own discussion. We agreed that while street theatre offered a live and ever changing perameter for the relationship between artist and audience it was quite possible to abuse the form and for the relationship between artist and audience to be lifeless. We agreed that while the formal theatre environment can cut the audience off from the artist, physically, the connection between them can be vibrant and alive.

Someone said something rather magical: the ideal live audience/artist relationship is not prescriptively about being shocked, moved, angered etc. but it is that the relationship leads to the audience feeling “present” – by feeling “present” we become hyper-sensitive imaginatively, intellectually, spiritually and are open to change – this is the ideal in the relationship between artist and audience.

2. What is the role of the artist?

In exploring answers around this question, there was one specific disagreement around audience. Should the artist consider the audience as a group or a group of individuals? We didn’t find an answer to this question. But we did consider the goal of complicity for the artist – not making everyone feel and think the same – but a complicity of reaction enabling the audience to respond as a group and as individuals.

Guy Dartnell said that part of the problem in theatre was artists thinking too much about the relationship with the audience, and being frightened to say what they thought.

We talked about loads of stories of our experiences of seeing theatre. There was a lot of love and frustration in the discussion, like talking about a lover who keeps letting you down.

A provocation:
This weekend people have been talking about quaintness of theatre. Is part of the problem with a lot of theatre is that it fails to reflect contemporary relationships? My daughter communicates with more people everyday via her phone and msn than she does face to face. Many people think theatre is a weird arcane activity. And they’re right. It’s pretty weird for a whole load of people to go in to a room and look at a whole load of other people pretending to be a whole load of other people. Perhaps the challenge for theatre and the challenge for the relationship between artist and audience is to reflect the more “layered” relationships people now experience, while recognising theatre is best when it’s human and it cocks up.

Please add more specific recollections, I’m crap at minutes.