This project has been made possible by a grant from the Creative Arts Council of Brown University.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Audience reflections (reflections on an audience)

I expected Saturday’s performance to feel different than Friday’s since a weekday downtown is very different from a weekend morning- there are significantly less people, since many work weekday 9-5 office jobs in the area around the Arcade. The tobacco shop is also closed on the weekend, and during Friday’s performance there had been a number of people walking across the Westminster portico going in and out of the shop, often navigating the dancers to do so. It was great to hear some anecdotes from the dancers about the way that people responded; one woman’s comment as she walked by them was “weird”. But there were (almost) no bodies moving through that space on Saturday morning except the dancers. 

On Saturday there was a larger audience composed of people who had specifically come to see the performance. However, defining the audience solely in this way is misleading. I talked to someone from the Brown Daily Herald who is covering the performances, and one of the questions she asked me was “how big was the audience?” 

My response was that estimating the audience size was not really relevant for a lot of site-specific works, including this one. It is a question that brings up some interesting ideas regarding how we conceptualise and define an audience. I would say that the common conception is inherently defined by proscenium performance, where there is a designated space for spectators. This spatialising of the audience defines and dictates their role in relation to the performers. But at the Arcade on Friday and Saturday, in addition to those who came specifically to watch the performance, were people who may not have even known about it, but they stopped for a few minutes to watch, or maybe just turned their heads as they drove or biked by (or maybe just made a monosyllabic comment walking past).

In addition to the dancers on both porticos, the audience on Weybosset St can be seen in these photographs: taken from Westminster Street:

The idea of blurring process and product is again relevant here; we have had an audience of some kind every time we have “rehearsed” (performed) at the Arcade.  Additionally, there was no clear space in which the audience should position themselves, or any clear directions as to when or where, or even if, they should move between the two facades, like the dancers were.

Actually, this audience movement was the most successful aspect of the performances for me. One of the most gratifying moments was when an audience member, who is a friend of mine, said to me “we got really excited when we realized that we had to be an interactive audience.” On both days, but especially on Saturday, the audience was fantastic at moving between the two sides of the Arcade- often multiple times. It is not so much that I feel it was a “better” choice for the audience to move (since as I discussed in an earlier post, the difficulty created in being able to see everything was intentional), but that I deeply appreciated their willingness to actively participate in the piece, entering their bodies into the performance space, and contributing to the performative, place-making movements of bodies through space.

One issue that I was aware of was that I did not want to lead audience members into thinking they should move when or where I did- this might have been the case since I knew many of the audience members/many knew it was my project. But if that did happen, I feel it was only in a few instances- most of the audience movement was happening independent of my movements.

Once the alley was discovered to be the shortcut through to the other side, most audience members used this route to get from one side to the other, often beating the dancers there if they had gone around the long way. This also meant there were some interesting moments when a dancer would pelt at full speed through the alley as people were walking through it.

A couple audience members felt able to go up onto the porticos and get close to the dancers, but for the most part they stood back to observe. It is interesting that most of the people who went onto the Westminster portico while the dancers were there were those on Friday who went into the smoke shop- people who I do not think would self-identify as an audience of the project. Those that might self-identify that way tended to stay further away (just to be clear, I would identify all as audience members). While there was a practicality to this- being able to see the whole picture- this says a lot about the sacredness of performance, and also about the privileging of seeing the whole picture (seeing “everything”) over seeing details, fragments.

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