Being in the audience.
I remember learning the definition of cynical when my Mum proclaimed I was just that at the ripe old age of ten. I’ve always been what I would prefer to call fussy when it comes to the live arts, sharing a similar politic to the average Sun reader towards modern art and messy beds. I also don’t mind having my views heard, hence this blog but my new years resolution may have cured my boredom of 90% of the arts – by being in the audience.
In January when most people decided to buy a Martine McCutcheon DVD or order an NHS quit smoking pack I opted for a more achievable goal – to see at least one piece of live performance a week including going to see stuff I would never go to see or felt I wasn’t invited to. For someone who makes shows that I expect the public to see I’m terrible at making the effort to seeing other peoples work.
We’re into the seventh month of the year and as many ‘Dance Workout’ DVD’s collect dust I’ve been faithful to my promise and gone out to the theatre / room above a pub / rooftop and braved the arts (and rain).
This year I’ve allowed myself to enjoy the work that I wanted and not the work I think I should experience. For a long time I thought having a trendy haircut and wearing converse shoes meant I had to enjoy performance in a gallery or nightclub, but my ideal night of entertainment is a few show tunes followed by a messy performance piece, abit of avant-garde nonsense, finished off with some magic.
So far with my new found determination of engaging with the arts I’ve got damp at ‘Singing In The Rain’, learnt how to dance to ‘Northern Soul’ with Victoria Melody, touched Brain Lobel’s ball in ‘Cancer’, watched the middle classes enjoy ‘One Man Two Guvnors’, had a cup of tea in an office with ‘The Oh F**K Moment’, had flashbacks of a misspent youth in ‘Wasted’, enjoyed an opera diva snog a decapitated head in ‘Salome’ and sat on the roof of the National Theatre with Non Zero One attempting to get my head around how the eyes see.
It’s been a brilliant few months of being entertained but it’s been even better feeling bored, frightened, indifferent, excited and engaged and I think I’ve changed my mind about how I feel about theatre and people sitting in rows, something my peers shy away from but with every company making immersive work sitting in a chair feels unfamiliar and it can work.
I’ve also come to enjoy sitting next to very rich people at the Royal Opera House or not worrying about saying no to a performer who wants me to strip naked but one thing that has stuck out in this world of expression, liberalism and frivolity is all have an audience you would expect at them – musicals are full of tourists and gays, live art full of people in scruffy clothes, frowning and immersive theatre is for other practitioners brave enough to be humiliated – is a stereotypical demographic a bad thing?
Content aside does engaging new audiences to your work make it good performance? What’s the difference between sitting in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and watching performance artist Mouse put milk in her vagina and watching a naked man covered in blood with a severed head at the Royal Opera House? Location? Performer Myra Dubois muses on her blog ‘the only difference between mainstream and alternative is the venue and its reputation’.
Should audiences be the one taking the plunge to seek new, unfamiliar work or is the onus on us, the makers to stir things up? Or does good art engage a new viewer as Jerry Springer the Opera did with getting the working classes to the National?
Environment seems to determine its audience, music lovers will take a punt on an LP or new band but performance art people wouldn’t dare give something like ‘Posh’ a go.
What I can unequivocally tell you from my experiences is that my cynicism has largely lifted from this half year of being an audience member. From looking around the room at all of these places I’ve realized if I like it or not it will still exist with or without my comment but the greatest thing about seeing a lot of work across the sector is that it helps inform decisions I’m making about my own practice and so I guess all of live art(s) is good art regardless of its audience – but that’s completely subjective too.