Sunday, September 4 2011
Technically Directed by Spencer Christiano
Photos by Annette Dragon

Video from this performance can be found at the bottom of the page.

I am beginning to understand more and more that my attraction to theater work has a lot to do with the social contracts that performance is based on. Performance is an ant colony with assigned, assumed roles. It is a co-operative ecology where, when something goes wrong, it is instinctively set right. My interest is in breaking the network of responsibilities to see what happens.

The Audience reverses the role of audience and performer. Ideally, I wanted this piece to be a surprise for the audience. They would be thrust into role of the performers with no advance knowledge. But I couldn’t figure out a way to attract an audience for The Audience without giving away the experiment. If I had access to season ticket holders or a Broadway performance and changed the rules in those venues, now that would be a social experiment. It also would be a provocated rage replete with tens of thousands of dollars in refunds.

So for my The Audience, the audience was told well before curtain the rules. There was to be no planned performance. Everything that appeared on stage would be whatever the collection of viewers brought to the experience. My opening remarks emphasized a sense of play and encouraged people who had not been on a stage since grade school to test the boards.

Spencer, my colleague, and I differed as to how much assistance and encouragement we wanted to give the audience members. Since I always fear humiliating my performers with my inversions, I wanted to give them performance crutches. Spencer wanted to provide them with nothing but a bare stage and a spotlight. This seemed like slapping a bug down under a microscope. I overruled. I gave the performers:

1) A giant inflatable Easter bunny popping out of an Easter egg, suitable for a front lawn.
2) A rack of costumes including 2 gorilla outfits, one clown get-up , a monk’s cowl and a few sequined dresses.
3) A writing table and several chairs.
4) My beloved Charlie McCarthy dummy
5) A Yayoi Kusama punching bag
6) Copies of the ten greatest speeches of the 20th century.
7) A laptop with access to the internet.
8) A piano
9) A microphone

I also learned from the open-ended frustration of Dinner Theater. I needed to make sure the audience knew when The Audience would be over. For this I secured a large digital scoreboard clock and hung it in the middle of the stage. I set the clock at 90 minutes and after my opening remarks, the clock began its countdown. Anyone can put up with any theater performance for 90 minutes, I reasoned.

I then sat back and watched. The first forty-five minutes was spent in what I could best call inchoate exploration. People walked up and examined the costumes and the props, sang fragments of songs, did fragments of improvisation. There was no through line in any of the activities on stage.

And then, as we hit the halfway mark, a complete song was sung. And then another with back-up. At this point, people I would characterize as having less performance experience developed a courage and direction and started to come up on stage, sometimes only to rush off after reciting a line or two. One gentleman spoke quite touchingly of his aged mother. A couple did a tango after realizing that they had gone to the same tango studio. A performer did an impromptu monolog on African-American hair that she had never performed before. The evening ended about two minutes early with a full-blown cabaret performance – singer and pianist in remarkable synch.

And then the last two minutes were a countdown of unwilling starts, giggles and asides about what could be done that wouldn’t be truncated. All performers obeyed the rule of the clock. Ninety minutes was ninety minutes.

The response afterwards was one of exhilaration and opening night stage survival. Several people wanted to repeat the experiment, but I decided against this. Someone had asked me earlier in the week what was the difference between The Audience and an open mic. I was offended by this comparison. The difference was in the expectation. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s The Audience. If there is a defined format, repeated, it’s an open mic. The unexpected is greatly diminished in the repetition. For this reason, The Audience was retired. Unless someone wants to give me a matinee of The Lion King.


During the performance, five cameras were distributed and shared. The following videos were filmed by members of The Audience and are available in 720p HD.

Camera 1

(00:06:35)

Camera 2

(00:51:36)

Camera 3

(00:01:20)

Camera 4

(00:50:09)

Camera 5

(00:57:17)