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What is the role of the audience in a performance?

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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So many times in old movies, the actors who were playing actors would complain of "a dead audience" or they would remark, "What was with that crazy audience?"  So, realistically, there must be a dynamic between actors and audiences. This is probably most salient with comedy.  If the actors in a comedy, or the comic on stage do not make their audiences laugh, then the performance is a failure, as nothing returns to the comedians, and they realize that their comic performances are not generating the response that they should.

Essentially, then, the audience is a receptor of the stimulating agents on stage.  Then, as part of the dynamic between audience and those on stage, the audience also transmits energy and responses to the actors.  Thus, a receptive audience can improve the performance of those on stage; the responsive audience is absolutely essential to the success of those on stage.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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On a high school stage, young actors are moved and motivated by an engaged audience.  I've seen it happen time after time; the audience responds positively early in the show, and the show kills.  I'm always most proud of my cast when the audience wasn't particularly demonstrative yet they gave the same performance they would have for a responsive audience.  On a professional stage, I would expect that.  For young people who are still concerned about being accepted and affirmed, the audience is critical.  As a director, I like to sit in the back of the house and watch the audience because their experience is the major reason for the performance.

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Inuk Lee eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The role of the audience can be variable in a performance. Like the second answer, the audience can participate. For instance, there have recently been some productions that play with this. The broadway shows, Momma Mia and Tina and Tony's Wedding experiment with this.  For the later, the play is put on as if the audience was invited to a wedding and reception. There are also hybrid model that blur the distinction, like the play, Putnam County Spelling Bee. In part you are the audience, but at times you may participate.

There is another perspective that says the audience shapes the...

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kimfuji eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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coachingcorner eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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thewanderlust878 | Student

The audience actually is a very important part of basically any performance, whether it be a concert, a play, a musical, or something else. Many times performances require audience involvement, which leads to the performers realizing what is good and what is bad based on the feedback. Also, without the audience, performances would never make any money. And audience is needed to purchase tickets and get the word out about the performance. 

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crystaltu001 | Student

The audience is there for performances because when you perform you would like people to watch you. Audiences are for telling you how you did and giving feedback on what you did good in the performance and what you need to improve on. 

arrellbelle | Student

People can create as much music as they like, but without the audience, there is no feedback, no motivation/influence, and no means of support. With the audience, the performers are more likely to feel the optimism of the audience's support with their cheers and this causes the performers to give out their best whilst on stage. 

books13 | Student

This topic reminded me of a time when I went to the theatre to see "The Glass Menagerie".  It was a time when I became self-conscious as a part of the audience. 

I was quite young at the time, in my early twenties.  If you have seen the play, you will recall how the mother is constantly yelling at her daughter, as she plays with her little glass figures.   I had never seen the play before and when the audience laughed, I laughed along with them just caught in the audience response.

Of course, there is much more to this mother-daughter relationship being revealed here, and none of it was funny.

The lady sitting next to me said in a very loud voice, "Audiences are so stupid." 

I never laughed again in the whole play.  It wasn't a comedy, but audience response can be infectious.

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kc4u | Student

Just to add on to things, please have a look at what is called 'Reader Response Theory'. With theories of poststructuralism, there has been a serious interrogation of the authorial function in a text in terms of intention and meaning. It started with American New Criticism and culminated with Foucault's talk What is an Author? or Barthes's The Death of the Author. Death of the author has led to a new rebirth of the reader, as Barthes says.

The audience in a dramatic performance or the reader of a text is seen today as the meaning-maker. It is they who construct a text as much as the author or the playwright. The meaning of performance is like a meaning initiated by the dramatist, mediated by the actor and the director and left open until it is completed in terms of the response of the audience.

Brecht talked about 'Alienation-effect' to draw attention to the illusory nature of theatre; theatre as theatre and not reality. In poststructuralist terms, this is what is known by 'defamiliarization'.

Dramatists like Peter Handke have made plays out of audiences like Offending the Audience. The work of Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser are important theorists in the field.

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