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make your day dance

Training the audience

June 17th, 2009 · 2 Comments · Tags: ····

Audience norms are really different, depending on the event.  Golf: total silence for the swing.  Ballet: silence with applause following fantastic turns and jumps.  Modern: silence, even following fantastic turns and jumps. Baseball: general conversation, cell phones & folks hawking food, but don’t disturb your neighbor during a play, and be ready to cheer wildly at a moment’s notice.  Church: depending on the flavor, audience participation ranges from mumbled responses to loud exhortations.  Symphony: total silence, especially between two parts in a series — don’t applaud until eveyone else does.  School performance: cell phones, conversations, babies crying, people talking, with possibly wild cheers whenever the featured performer (the child they’ve come to see) comes on stage!?

Ideally, standards for the audience at the kids’ performance would be the same standards we teach our kids — pegged as the 4 A’s of Audience Participation in Anne Gilbert’s Brain-Compatible Dance Education:

Attend, Allow, Applaud, Appreciate

Which translates as Pay attention to everyone even if it’s not your child; Allow the kids to do their best by not distracting them with noise & confusion; Applaud when they’re done; & Appreciate them later by telling them what they did fabulously.

No harm in briefing your parents on the same standards the students have learned — ostenstibly so they’ll know what the kids are learning. Meanwhile, maybe they’ll take a hint.

Other strategies:

Spend some time with the kids working up a rubric for what good performers do and then share the rubric with parents, so they’ll have a context for appreciating their children. Post it in written form, so you can brief them very quickly — which saves time and leaves it available as a reference. This approach gives them something to think about…

Provide program notes to clarify the origin and details about the piece students are performing, what they learned from it, and how they built it.  The context may help them focus.

Ask the parents for help in the form of quiet listening — explain that the kids are working really hard on concentrating and being heard, and the audience can help them succeed.

Make the same pre-performance announcement about cell phones that other performance venues do… or at least ask folks to take their call outside if it’s important.  In the same vein, request that parents keep small siblings off the stage and with them, for everyone’s safety.

Plant some allies along the sidelines (teachers? the principal?) to remind the worst offenders.

Results are best when proactive rather than reactive. Once the noise starts, it’s hard to stop.  Use a different strategy each time, and repeat the ones that work. Hopefully, the audience will gradually improve to meet standards — allowing everyone’s kid to do their best by giving quiet attention and applause!

2 Comments so far ↓

  • Brad

    I was in attendance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland Or. and have a bone to pick with those who habitually stand at the end of the performances. This repertory group typically gives fine performances in shows that are well directed and have fine technical and artistic support. It was always my understanding that simple applause through the entiire curtain call showed adequate appreciation for a job well done. The standing O is reserved for the show that is in some way exceptional, above and beyond the expectations you bring with you to the performance. It seems that there are those who insist on offering this accolade to every show they attend, something like a parent who heaps on the praise for their child’s performance to build their self esteem. I guess it is each persons business how they respond to a show but the problem with this habit as I see it is that it suggests that an audience member who is not standing has not really enjoyed the show and is just clapping to be polite. This takes value away from the audience response. If there is real cause for audience members to rise to their feet then they will rise en mass spontaneously out of the exuberance they feel for what they have seen. To stand because you think everyone deserves the highest possible form of praise is counterproductive and just plain foolish.

  • megrm

    I would have to agree… there are times when I’ve found myself immediately on my feet for a curtain call (like last Monday night at the end of “Next to Normal” at the Booth Theatre in NYC, with Alice Ripley and a wonderful ensemble of 6 actors) and times when I’ve stood to be polite. I thought the habitual standing O was a Seattle thing, but both varieties happened during my stay in NY this past week.

    Meanwhile, in order for my kids to experience a standing ovation, we’d probably have to have all 325 onstage for the final curtain!