From The Footlights

By Kirsten Nelson On January 12, 2011

Too many audience members seem unaware that in an acoustically perfect space, sound not only travels pristinely from the stage to the audience, but also fairly cleanly from the peanut gallery to performers’ ears. Noise from the audience can be deafening in its distraction, and stories of actors breaking character to chastise obtuse mobile phone users and whisperers are the stuff of legend in theater circles.


Kirsten Nelson

One of the best recent cinematic treatments of this phenomenon occurs in (Untitled), a film about an avant-garde composer, a contemporary art curator, and their critics. The two main characters first meet when the curator disrupts the composer’s performance by first removing a very loud and crinkly rubberized fashionista jacket, and then fanning herself with a paper program for the remainder of the concert. Taking the stage again after his final bow, the composer says directly to the clueless curator, “Are you hot? Is that it? Do you have any idea how distracting that is? Let me give you an idea.” With that, he retrieves a large American flag from down stage and waves it slowly and exaggeratedly across the proscenium arch. She doesn’t seem to get the point, but it’s a good laugh for those who know what it’s like to work in the performing arts.

The comments and critiques that come from the anonymous dark beyond the stage of audio and video design and integration are equally distracting. Everyone’s an expert these days, and the internet provides a platform for constant sniping and griping. In order to rise above this, and maintain your vision, (Untitled) has the following advice from an aged composer who has just received a scathing critique from an audience member: “Everyone has their opinion. The artist must find meaning in the process.”

No matter what you hear from the audience, what really has weight is the labor you put into a project. In the best-case scenario, tremendous effort equates with reward, but you can’t always expect the client to understand the magic occurring on stage. They’re sometimes oblivious, and their behavior is detrimental to your work, but the show must go on. So take a step back as you look at the year ahead, and find what you believe in most about your process. If there are things you could change to make your performance more convincing, go for it. But don’t let the audience’s flapping get in your way.

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