I had a scene partner many years ago tell me “People don’t seem to understand that when you give someone your attention, you are giving them something. It’s a gift.” That concept was a turning point for me in the value of listening and the listener.
Living in AN EXTREMELY LOUD CULTURE fighting for the consumer’s attention ad nauseam, we are becoming more numb and forget the power we have as a collective. That silent majority tuning in every week for Game of Thrones, or The Daily Show 1) Not so silent and 2) extremely powerful. But do we feel it? I know I don’t feel very powerful at home on the couch binge watching Orange is the New Black with sweatpants and old coffee. I am one isolated part of a massive isolated collective that makes up the Audience. And we are powerful in terms of the business of entertainment. What is the effect for the artists?
Being in a hit show means more work for the artists involved – writers continue to write, actors continue to act, etc. Getting to work (and by work I mean create) consistently. And with a built in audience from Netflix, HBO or some network stations, the response is immediate via reviews and virtual “water cooler” sites. But for those of us on the rise without the business model of a built in audience, what’s missing from posting our videos online, is the in-the-moment exchange that performance art is meant to have.
With film and tv, there’s a delay of a couple months to years from creation to audience. The first couple screenings with an actual audience is nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time. It’s weird it to sit in the audience and watch yourself up on the screen do something you did a long time ago while everyone else is experiencing this story for the first time. I can understand now why actors who have been in iconic roles are bored with the praise and references to something they did a million years before. For the artist and any human on the journey of growth and expansion, creation has to happen everyday, in the moment.
Theater and live performances are the ultimate in-the-moment exchanges between audience and performer. And we are forgetting that exhilaration both as an audience and performer in a big way because we don’t have to be present when we are at home Facebook stalking or copying the same charming what I did today update to all your Tinder matches in sweatpants with old coffee while watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. When we’re out in the world in an actual movie theater or music venue, we can feel the collective power of the audience. Have you ever been to a friend’s final stand-up comedy class performance? Watching someone painfully bomb is experienced TOGETHER as an audience. And we need those experiences to know when someone exceptional performs. And we appreciate them more.
One of my favorite audience experiences this year was at Iama’s 23 hour play festival. For me it was the epitome of artistic in-the-moment exchange with pure appreciation for everyone involved and their part of the collective. 23 hours earlier, 5 writers were given a concept, a cast of actors and 12 hours, then directors directed, actors rehearsed, technician tech-ed, and 11 hours later we the audience were there ready to see what they came up with. We laughed, listened and cheered. The entire cast came out on stage at the end of the performance, everyone in the audience stood up and because it was a smallish space and there were so many performers and audience members there was a literal blurring of the people. Half the audience was on the stage with the directors and writers peppered in, cast members came from the wings and stood right in front of the first row and everyone celebrated that culmination and coming together in a way that can only be described as rejoicing. ‘Rejoice’ is defined as feel or show great joy or delight. And though various religions usually take first dibs on this term, I can’t think of a better term.
There’s nothing like being at the movie theater and laughing together, crying together, cheering together. Maybe it’s because I moved away from my roots and live in a big city, that I feel like we live in a lonelier world. It’s easer to stay home and sort of connect on all the social media platforms, than go out into the world and have an opinion…in person…with other people. I mean, we live in a world where we can buy everything we need on-line. Think about that for a moment…. We can buy e v e r y t h i n g we need on-line: books, groceries, spouses, drugs, college educations, movies, sex, cars, alcohol. Without the need to interact with one another, we are forgetting how to interact with one another as well as the power of being present with each other.
So let’s take a break from the status updates and waiting to talk. Don’t let Amazon capitalize on your vague convenience needs for a minute. Let’s get reacquainted with the subtle power of being present, giving someone else your attention, and let’s do this by going to the theater, going to see a band, actually going to the store. Being present and listening with intent is a gift. And as an artist, can you really reach an audience with powerful intent if you haven’t been a present audience member yourself?