Let's set the scene:
A fabulous cast of performers doing fabulous things on stage - acting, singing, dancing, emoting, all that good stuff.
Audience... stony faced, arms crossed, staring straight ahead.
Cut back to the stage:
Collective inner pout.
Cast doing fabulous things on stage, singing, dancing, being in the moment, inhabiting, listening, projecting, all that good stuff.
Audience... laughing, smiling, clapping, stomping their feet, throwing underw-- ahem, that was only that one time... and I must admit it was, um, well deserved. Kudos, er, Sir!
Anywho, as the kids say, where was I?
Ah, yes! Being in an audience when it comes to live performance, I believe, has its own obligations. You are, in many ways, a participant, not merely an impassive observer. If you feed off the cast's energy and return it, they in turn will feed off your response and it becomes a symbiotic relationship that enhances the experience for ALL involved.
I raise this because an interesting thing happened during the week. A week where I went to not one but three musical theatre shows. The second of which was in a very intimate space which seated maybe three dozen to watch what turned out to be a fabulous show about Edith Piaf.
I was sitting next to the musicians - double bass player, guitarist and keyboardist (who also played accordion... it was Piaf after all). When the show finished - to a standing ovation I might add - I turned and congratulated them. To which they thanked me for being a great audience member. Okay, that was kind of nice.
Afterwards, when people are waiting around for the cast to come out I get big hugs from "Edith" herself and my other friend who was in the show and again, I am thanked for laughing in all the right spots. Another actress, who I have never met before, gets all excited and I think referred to me as the "perfect audience member". Okay, that was all really kind of nice. Never forgetting though that it's their talent and hard work that's at the forefront here.
But for me this isn't anything I don't do at every show. If something is funny I will laugh. If something is cleverly written I laugh or clap or cluck approvingly. If something is poignant or insightful I'll also generally 'hmmmmm' audibly.
Now, to be sure, I have a distinctive laugh and many an actor friend has told me they know I am in the audience because of it. What they seemed to be saying that night is that because I was into it early the rest of the audience also came along for the ride and participated.
I don't know about that but here's the thing - you don't need permission to laugh and to show you're enjoying proceedings. The cast really do notice and they love it. When they talk about flat audiences or difficult shows it's because they're not getting anything back. Don't be afraid to respond - it may be the theatre but it's not a mausoleum in there! Give a little and you might just get something extraordinary back...
This person is doing it right! (picture from The Guardian via http://xsentertainme.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/on-audiences/)