On Being a Good Audience Member
Posted June 27th, 2012 by Meredith
Storytelling, whether in a social situation or on stage, is interactive. Not necessarily call and response style interactive (usually), but there is a give and take between the teller and the audience member that is an important part of the experience.
Storytellers thrive on audience reaction, its what lets us know that your listening. No one gets up on stage, or decides to commandeer attention at a party just because they like to hear themselves talk (not JUST because of that). We thrive on the attention, the reactions, and the energy that get’s kicked back from the audience. It also lets us know what’s working and what isn’t working, which is extremely valuable information for a performer.
But I would bet that few audience members realize how integral they are to the performance. An energetic, dynamic, hilarious storyteller put in front of a reserved audience will slowly become less energetic, less dynamic and probably less funny as the story goes on without the audience’s energy. I’ve been there, both on stage and socially, and it sucks. I’ve actually stopped mid story in a social situation because, even though I knew I was telling a strong story, this group simply wasn’t feeling it, and that’s not any fun at all for me.
Now, I’m naturally a loud laugher, and while it endlessly embarrasses my boyfriend when we’re in a movie theater, it makes mea great audience member for live performances. And if I’m in a crowd (either at a show or at a party) that I sense is a little reserved, or a little unsure of how to behave, I pump it up and make sure to really laugh loudly and fully at anything even a little amusing. (Confession: it takes very little to amuse me.) And if something is completely hysterical? I add some hand clapping, maybe a floor stomp, maybe a head thrown back with a hand over my heart, because I want to make sure that the storyteller knows that he/she is connecting with at least one person, but I also want to send a message to the rest of the audience. A message that says “Loosen up people! This is how it works!”
Granted, if the story is really serious, and not meant to be funny, this doesn’t work. But I try to avoid those types of situations as much as possible, so its not usually an issue. But even in those situations you can still let the teller know you’re there. Gasp, cluch your heart, grab the hand of the person next to you, lean forward in your seat, etc. Just let them know you are with them.
But lets talk more about laughter because that’s really my wheelhouse.
The best part about laughter, especially the
obnoxious full belly kind, is that its super contagious. Pay attention at the next SpeakeasyDC show you go to, and you’ll see that after the first 2-3 stories, laughs come easier and audience reactions of all kinds are stronger. And that’s not just because the alcohol has kicked in. (Although that helps.) It’s because people get comfortable and realize they let themselves be captured by experience and the story. They can react outwardly and that it makes the experience better, for them and the teller.
Its a beautiful thing.
So the next time you find yourself part of an audience, think about what kind of audience member you are. And if you feel self conscious, just remember, you’re helping the storyteller tell a better story.
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Class: “The Stage Created Memoir” with guest teacher Margot Leitman and Meredith Maslich of Possibilities Publishing
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