How far should audience interaction go (or I hate dancing in public)?

In the light of Operation Black Antler from Blast Theory/Hydrocracker I’ve had a nagging thought.  What responsibility does a theatre company have to its audience in terms of the extent to which they need to interact?

In live performance, some activities are optional and to some extent there are rules.  You don’t sit on the front row of a stand up comedy show if you don’t want to be involved.  And that’s fine.  If you have the choice of saying ‘no’ and you get the same from the show as everyone else, then there’s no problem.  But the grey area is where either you cannot say ‘no’ or if the show is incomplete without involvement.

In Stacey Makishi’s Vesper Time there is a point where she encourages the audience to dance although it is clear that it’s not really optional.  Dancing in public, one of my biggest fears.  There have been several limited capacity shows where each audience member is asked to describe personal experiences.  Two ANU productions give the opportunity to almost become a member of the cast.  In Angel Meadow I was taken around Ancoats by a thug, aware that some of the general public might have thought I was being attacked; in These Rooms (in Dublin) I danced with an actor in the bar and sat in the bathroom whilst she changed clothes.  In Cap-a-Pie’s Town Meeting I was a key part of the discussion about planning policy for a town.  In World Factory I and my team of six took decisions on how to run a clothing factory.  In Love on the Dole my daughter and I marched down the A6 chanting and waving flags.  In what is probably my favourite experience this year I stood opposite FK Alexander as she held my hand and sang ‘Over the Rainbow in front of a gallery of people.  Each had a different level of involvement but ultimately you could fade into the background if you wanted to and still enjoy the show.

Which brings me back to Operation Black Antler.  I loved the way this show worked, and the insights gained through personal conversations, but two aspects trouble me.  First, is there a limit to the extent that each audience member wants to become involved; if they’d asked me to dance in the middle of the function room I would have left, and certainly I was always aware of the semi-public nature of the space.  Second, if all you wanted to do was watch, avoiding any interaction with the actors, I doubt you would have got very much out of the production.

So how do we reconcile the fact that not everyone wants to get involved in immersive performance and yet it can be the most effective and emotionally stimulating form of live performance?  How do we deal with audiences having a diverse range of personal spaces and introvert/extrovert traits?  What responsibility does the theatre company have to all paying members of the audience?


Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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