In Which I Insult All Potential Future Clients
On Friday I enjoyed one of the most amazing nights of entertainment in my life. I was fortunate enough to see the Muppets Take the O2. It was glorious, truly glorious. Not only were the whole gang there, they had amazing guests. The guest star, Bobby Moynihan, though a regular on American TV, isn’t all that well known here in the UK. However, the cameo appearances were quite extraordinary. Check out any of the online reviews to find out more, but David Tennant appearing as The Doctor in Pigs in Space in a sketch that I now consider canon, and Kylie Minogue actually singing Mahna Mahna were just joyous. It was a witty, crazy, ludicrous night that I adored. There was only one thing about the night that I didn’t like. The audience. I’ve now gotten used to people doing things such as recording performances on their phone rather than just watching them, but what bugged me was those who left early. Five minutes before the end of the show – and I’m not even counting the encore – people were getting up and leaving. I can only assume they wanted to avoid the rush, but why? Honestly, it’s those last ten minutes that are the best bit. People missed Kermit and the gang singing Rainbow Connection – one of my all-time favourite songs. Not only that, they missed the encore. The stage filled with muppets, guests, dancers, and a choir riotously singing and just having fun,* with the audience on their feet and joining in. I cannot comprehend why you would cause disruption to your fellow audience members, and deny yourself the glorious, tasty cherry on top.
On the way home this made me think about quite a few tweets and reports I’ve seen during the World Cup. I’m not a massive football fan, but I do love big sporting occasions. When England are playing it’s wonderful to see the whole country join together in support, mostly because it makes doing a food shop that much easier. But, back to the point. A few weeks ago two women in the front row of a theatre cheered as they watched England on their phone winning on penalties. I also remember reading about a man who, during another performance, stood up and announced that England had won the Sweden game. Even on a fundamental, unnecessary spoiler level, this is not acceptable. When I was a child when the football results came on TV there were screams to drown them out if people had not yet seen at least the match highlights. But to do it during a theatre presentation? It just seems completely bizarre to me.
I have a thought as to why this is. We’re just not used to watching live performances any more. We’re not used to being part of a group experience. Almost everything in modern society encourages us to think of ourselves as the most important thing that is happening. That our desires and instincts at that time are what matters. Everything we want is at our fingertips. But when we are part of an audience, this is no longer the case. We have come together for a set amount of time to enjoy something very specific. Because of this, there is a specific rule set. You are no longer the most important thing in the room. It doesn’t matter if you want to make a phone call or talk about politics, you have decided that being part of a theatre experience should take priority. (Before I go any further, the theatre geek in me does want to point out that I’m making an exception for any kind of Brechtian epic theatre conceit.)
Yesterday, I had a gig where this thought re-emerged. Halfway through a performance a woman ran over to me and started shouting ‘I know how you did that one!’ I’m not unused to this, and usually I’ll simply say ‘Awesome, let me finish the set and I’d love to talk about it after.’ I address this to the whole audience. It’s a great way to engage when I’m at gigs, it often stops people who feel the need to be picky, and also it gets me pretty interesting feedback about how I can improve my performances. But, unusually for me, yesterday I was performing for children. It was an end of year party for a group from primary school. The person who ran over gleefully telling me they had worked out the trick was a parent who had been taking photos from a bit of a distance and one of those photos had caught a specific move. Part of what I do is misdirection. I have worked hard at honing my craft and am able to have the audience look in a certain direction at a specific time. Some tricks rely on this. It is a core skill of being a magician. However, it is impossible to misdirect a camera. It captures everything it is pointed at. There is a reason television magicians work closely with their editors and camera operators to ensure moves and moments aren’t exposed. In fact, for those of us within the magic community there is debate about how much leeway should or shouldn’t be given when filming magic performances. But I’m getting distracted…
I didn’t mind getting caught on camera. With this particular trick, if someone snaps a pic at the right moment and you don’t even know they’re there you will get caught. I don’t even mind being teased by the person who caught me. It’s nice to “beat” the magician at their own game. What boggled my mind was running over whilst I was in the middle of entertaining a group of children and saying it. I struggled to maintain their attention during the key moment of an effect, and the relationship I had developed was instantly destroyed.
So, what is the point of this blog?
Performers work really hard to do a good job. Asking an audience to show a little respect really isn’t asking too much.
*I’d just like to say I have never seen anyone enjoy themselves more than David Tennant singing with the Muppets.
Paul's Edinburgh Fringe show “Illusions of Depression” will be showing at Tollbooth Market, Gladstone’s Court, EH8 8BN from the 15th August to the 25th August.