What can theatre take from stand up comedy and spoken word (or vice versa?)

Kate Fox, 11 July 2012

People there:

Jo Cundall, Leyla Asadi, Amy Mitchell, Selina Thompson, Annabel Turpin, Marie Collins, plus butterflies.

Session called by Kate Fox

We start by wondering why there are bigger audiences for stand up comedy?

Perhaps people know what they're getting. They've seen it on the telly, it's easier to give them the message they'll have an enjoyable night.

In the same way as telling people it's Shakespeare means they know what they're getting.

Suggestion that theatre could have warm up acts like stand up.

Help get audience in the right place and energy. Currently theatre conventions would make that too long a night. Could be a way to showcase new work or give tasters.

Film-type trailers may do similar.

Experimental theatre may be more open to boundary breaking than traditional theatre.

Daniel Kitson is an example of a storyteller- a stand up who makes theatre.

Stand up comedy nights are controlled and focused in knowing they want to give their audiences a particular experience. More like a pub, less elitist, more relaxed.

However- audiences can be worried when they're asked to participate or the fourth wall is broken without them knowing what the rules are.

There's new rules around using Twitter during performances- though that can reduce presence, be distracting for performers.

Fears came up about humiliation of audiences in comedy- or the convention of heckling. Hence the important role of compere in controlling things. At ARC they now have suggestions for audience behaviour on screen during their comedy nights.

Humiliation also a strong feature of reality shows- is there a fear around introducing this into theatre?

Comedy and theatre events rely on a contract of trust being established with an audience.

Interactive theatre is becoming more common. Kindness and care for the audience is key- (Like in Reykjavik) there were some more confrontational relationships in some 80s theatre work.

The biggest barrier for an audience in going to theatre may be in thinking they're not going to understand it. Bobby Baker the performance artist shows some work in academic/conventional venues where there's polite clapping- and in community venues where the audience talk to her throughout- the former more likely to be written up in academia.

The spoken word theatre Spalding Grey is mentioned.

Stand up provokes fears for audience and performers- as well as a certainty in what will be shown. Perhaps key is to accept their differences but for theatre to be more relaxed in the messages it conveys to audiences about what they will see. Clearer, more simple- the message, not the work.


Theatre, fourth wall, spoken word, Stand up comedy, humiliation, heckling, theatre