Monday, February 06, 2006

On being in the audience.

Bardseye did it again - dropped an aside which set my mind going - woke up at 2am this time with 'thoughts'.

In the far distant past, when I pretended to be a teacher, I used to try to get the idea of Shakespeare's audience across by comparing it to the average football crowd in the UK.
Just like the football crowd, most people stood. They could get unruly (or bloody riotus in fact) and were quite likely to throw things on the pitch, sorry, stage if they didn't like what they saw. Beer bottles and fruit.

All of this is sort of true - and certainly has become an orthodoxy amongst secondary school teachers.

Then, the New Globe opened.

I was very lucky to be amongst the first paying, public audience to stand and watch a performance in the almost completed theatre.

Yes, we stood - but it wasn't like watchig a football match. In the football game you are just watching - and at a distance too. The communication is physical gesture (like watching Ballet at the Bolshoi more than theatre). Your mind and emotions are engaged - but I am certain it is a different part of the brain from that used when listening to and watching a play.

The football is distinctly tribal - pack communication. In the theatre there is more a sense of variety - still of community but not the monolithic focus on one objective.

You don't sense the passing of time in the theatre, whereas, in football, time is essential - two halves, and 45min to 'kill' the enemy.

In the theatre you react with the actors - and in the Globe this is a very strong reaction - I stood at the front of the stage and caught the eyes of the actors many times - there is no darkness, it is played in daylight. The actors play to the audience, 'timing' is audience dependent. In football, the team can be lifted by cheers and supported by chants - but this is a very marked distance from what is happening in the globe.

Having been in that audience I fee lI know the importance of it to Shakespeare.

It is an equal partner in creating the meaning of the play. Shakespeare wrote to his audience - not in the way some modern soap opera writer would indulge them - but being very aware of what they knew, what they thought, of their diversity, rather than their uniformity.

Were there Jews in the audience for, The Merchant? Quite possibly. And black people amongst the groundlings for Othello? Modern historical research has located a number of black residents of Elizabethan London - so again, possible.

When a character 'addresses' the audience - what reaction is the actor expecting? The football crowd would not respond the same way, despite what I used to say, as the Globe audience.

This is not an issue of class, or even education - it is expectations and, I suggest, a different part of the brain in operation and focus.

I think differently when I look at a picture in an art gallery from looking at a stage set:

Have a look at this

A piece of dance constructs its meaning differently - I don't think of the dancer as a character, I focus on the movement/gesture. I am always aware of the falseness in the job of the actor - yes disbelief is sort of suspended - or rather, immitation is accepted.

Hamlet constantly breaks down the falseness - he reminds you of the theatre, he tells you he is only an actor. He talks to ME when I am in the audience.

Which links back to bardseye's blog:

Errrr tea time, and a strong one coming up.

1 comment:

bardseyeview said...

Gee, Shakespearance, I appreciate your kind words and link. I am certainly learning a quite a lot from lurking on your blog as well. I look forward to the experience you've already had of attending a performance at the restored Globe.


Jeremy (bardseye)