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JL1001 Audience Response Essay Paper
JL1001, Audience, Response, Essay, Paper
First, think back and see if you’ve ever experienced any of the following situations:
You find the world’s funniest YouTube video, the kind that makes you laugh uncontrollably for minutes at a time, the kind that perhaps can still make you laugh just by remembering it. You love this video so much that you show it to a friend or family member…and they don’t get it.
They don’t laugh. They just stare at your phone or computer screen, politely waiting for the video to end. You wonder what you saw that they didn’t. You watch an episode of a TV show you enjoy, something with a long series arc, like Supernatural or Better Call Saul or The Walking Dead.
Something strange or unexplained happens in the episode, and it’s so confusing or distracting that you stop enjoying the episode. Later, you check your favorite fan website, or look around for fan theories on Tumblr or Twitter or Facebook, and the more you read others’ write-ups, the more you understand the episode, and actually, you begin to enjoy it. You rewatch the episode and this time, you love it.
You go to the movies and see a very funny, or very sad movie. For the first 45 minutes, the movie theatre is silent. Then, one person starts to laugh at some of the jokes, or you hear one person start to cry over something sad on-screen. That one person opens the floodgates: after that first laugh or cry, the entire audience starts more freely laughing or crying. Once that person broke the silence, everyone else in the theatre felt freer to respond by laughing or crying.
Perhaps the most simple example: have you ever witnessed someone yawning, and then felt the urge to yawn yourself?
You may have noticed that the defining element in the above scenarios is other people. In these situations, our own experience of the world–be it the artistic world or something as simple as a yawn–was incomplete until someone else provided us with an influence. In the above examples, the individual’s understanding or appreciation of the artwork they experienced was somehow changed deeply simply by experiencing the work with others, either in person or online, in the moment or after the fact.
You may also have noticed something else: that the people who made the artworks (the YouTube video, the movie, the TV show) have very little control over that particular reaction: specifically, the reaction we have to others’ experience of the work.
Some things to think about as we move into some examples:
The best productions, I believe, are the ones who recognize this and focus on what they can control: what they’re communicating via their artwork. Productions that understand that people will interpret art not just singly but also collectively tend to give the audience a lot more to chew on and think about.
Strangely, the way to account for this is to make your work a little more enigmatic, which is counter-intuitive: if audiences are going to interpret work however they want, shouldn’t you try to give them enough information to guide them toward what you intended when you made the work? Not so, not so. You want to give them just enough information to find it themselves, even as a group.
Think about plays you’ve seen this semester. Did you prefer the plays that explained everything, or the ones that asked you questions?
Remember that theatre is a communal act. It has its roots in ancient religious ritual, and religious rituals are almost always intended to be experienced by a group. Good theatre practitioners remember that they’re trying to impact a group of people, not just individuals, and so they build shows that allow for audiences to communicate with one another.
You may have noticed that a lot of curtain speeches (the speeches shows open with that remind you to turn off your cell phones and that you can buy subscriptions to the theatre) include a line akin to: “Word of mouth is our most powerful marketing.” They want you to talk about the show, then. They want their show to impact the larger group.
As this talk about group/audience reaction is getting a bit ephemeral, let’s look at two examples:
In these two examples, you will see/hear about central events that are fairly similar: both focus on productions that completely and totally unravel. However, what’s different is how audiences respond to these works.
In the story from This American Life, Ira Glass and his interviewee offer a theory about fiascos: that fiascos are catastrophes in which audiences stop sympathizing with the person experiencing chaos and start, instead, getting hungry for more and more chaos.
In the production of Peter Pan described, the production team had no control over the madness unfolding onstage. They were unprepared, and somewhere along the way, the audience started watching a different show: no longer the story of Peter Pan, and instead, the story of a production of Peter Pan that implodes.
The Play That Goes Wrong, however, is controlled, intentional chaos. The point of that show is not the murder mystery; rather, it’s a story about how the murder mystery story will never get told because they keep “messing up.”
Your assignment is to respond to the following questions:
Think, specifically, about how the event onstage changed the connection between audience members, and changed their connection to the people/event onstage. Did one or both productions, accidentally or not, force their audience to become allies against or in favor of the chaos onstage? How so?
Dedicate about 100 or so words to each question above.
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