Someone once said: “If only theatre audiences listened to plays with the same intensity as concert audiences…” It is indeed a mystery why there is so much noise like coughing, candy paper, nose blowing and moving around in the chair during a play or a ballet, even during an opera, but as good as nothing during a concert. Why is that so? Is it the programme to blame?
A few years ago I took my son, then around 7 years old, to watch a concert in a distinguished hall in Seoul when one of the cellist gave the most extraordinary performance. He was so into the moment that his movements looked, well, mad. One thing is to watch a DV8 performance when so many movements look so funny but still belong to the whole atmosphere, but another thing is to listen to a pretty stiff concert while seating in an even stiffer auditorium when a cellist catches you by surprise and moves about in his chair like a rock star with silver long hair. And no, he was not the soloist. Result, I couldn’t stop laughing, that kind of laugh that makes your belly hurt and your eyes water. My son was ashamed of me, because if someone was supposed to misbehave it should be the kid, not the mother. But hey, maybe I had one of my ‘funny’ days, but the fact is and still remains that my behaviour was so, but so inappropriate in a stiff room where people seem even to take the shoes off before entering. Believe when I say that I was not laughing at the cellist as if he was ridicule, but the truth is that I really enjoyed this unexpected hilarious performance so out of nowhere.
Is it not the conductor’s/the choreographer’s/the director’s responsibility to grab the attention of the audience, which spans every two minutes? So, maybe the conductor allowed the cellist-extraordinaire to play that evening because the Sibelius choice of repertoire wasn’t his, meaning that he believed that the audience would feel bored anyway, but having quite a character onstage would make up for the rest? It is true that I was the only one laughing like a lunatic, but I am certain that I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t take the eyes off the cellist. Obviously this is only one in one million possibilities, but my point is that maybe it is not only the culture of the country that makes people talk, stand up, eat, text and sometimes even answer the phone (!) inside the auditorium – like it is the case in China (apart from concerts…), but maybe it is the head of the performance who is to blame. Had s/he studied the audience’s profile more wisely, had s/he not ignored some tiny little things that could have been improved or banned altogether during rehearsals, had s/he picked another text or had s/he worked the same text in a different way… If the audience looses interest, the head is mostly to blame, s/he has already lost.
Of course that a certain posture is expected from the audience for a better appreciation of the performance. Charles Marowitz says in Lear Log, rehearsal’s logbook from Brook’s production, ‘le cul sur la chaise et la tête claire’, but I don’t think that the ‘butt’ must be strictly on the chair so that the head is clear. Call it touristy if you want, but a Globe production is proof that standing audiences have more of the action than the seating ones. The posture begins not in the body, but in the head. It is about being open to what is about to happen, be it a more serious Sibelius concert or a Neil Simon comedy, the audience should embrace and accept what the performers are giving them, whereas the head of the performance, here the director, is responsible for profiling and scanning the text, the music score, the dance movements, the diction, well, the whole aspect of the performance and try to make a fit with the audience.
Honestly, I wish to have an audience that is alert and responsive instead of just a quiet one. Maybe the quiet ones are saying something with their silences, too. So would the Chinese think, at least… Still, for my taste, if audiences refrained from coughing, handling candy paper, blowing the nose, tossing around in the chair, talking (even whispering), texting, and walking around that would be already great.
Finally, whether the program is to blame or not, well, I do believe that directors, conductors and choreographers should pay maximum attention to things that might grab or disperse the audience, teaching them indirectly to exercise the best posture for the appreciation of art.
Luciana B. Veit