Audience as Participant

In the previous blog I  mentioned audience ‘encounters’ with performers. When the audience is a participant in devised performance this is a whole new level of encounter. Companies such as Gob Squad and Blast Theory use audience participation to great effect.

To first look at Gob Squad, a collective established in 1994, where audience members can be prevailed upon to do just about anything in a performance; asked to dance, sing , play guitar in a band, play the part of a lover or liberator, or even kiss one of the performers. (Western Society Press Pack,2015) The below video of the production Western Society shows audiences members being selected to join the performance and follow instructions via headsets. In an interview with Franz Müller the collective credit the audience for their participation; “…all of those who participate in the production of a piece of work have a personal relationship to its material and its making.” (2009) The same interview details audience participation in the rehearsal process using test audiences or “Try-Outs”. In terms of audience -performer relationship Gob Squad are heavily dependent on the audience to create their performances.

Figure 6: Western Society Trailer  (Gob Squad,2013)

Gob Squad have been known to use technology in performance, headphones and audio visual as we can see in the above trailer. However Blast Theory take audience participation through technology to another level. Blast Theory create work which contains augmented reality, digital projection, social networking and virtual reality for the audience to engage with. There is even a section on their website for performances classified as games. The audience become players in the performance “…exploring the interface between the live and the virtual”; Blast Theory explore “…interactivity as a means of engaging spectators as players in the production of meaning”. (Shaughnessy, 2012: 160) Their most famous games are CAN YOU SEE ME NOW (2001) and I LIKE FRANK (2004) the audience play online while performers take to the streets. The audience as players build relationships, share information and even compete with performers. For me this is interesting in relation to reception theory, if we would have previously looked at reader-response theory to text what is the equivalent for online gaming?

Aside: Individual versus group participation differs greatly, to draw on crowd psychology; “Though we may know each member of a group so intimately that we can, with some confidence, foretell his actions under given circumstances, we cannot foretell the behavior of the group from our knowledge of the individuals alone. ” (McDougall, 1973:31)

To navigate to the next blog, Community engagement, click here.

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