This rambled out today and I thought we might have a discussion. There are many different viewpoints as to how much an audience should be considered by the actor. Below is a viewpoint that I hold much of the time:
Actors are trained to "read an audience," to feel the audience and incorporate them into our sphere of attention. They are acutely aware of things like rustling programs, shifting in seats and yawns. Sensing an audience drifting away, the natural inclination is to reach out to them, but this is incorrect. Noticing the audience's deviated attention distracts from the task at hand, the intention being played, and mucks the performance. This disconnect between performer and audience is self perpetuating- a downward, or outward spiral.
So the trained actor at this point shrinks his sphere of attention, concentrates on a smaller area of the room, the stage; then smaller, her scene partner; then smaller, the scene partner's blouse, wonders to herself, "what material is this blouse made from," reaches out and touches it. Suddenly the audience gets quiet and still.
The crowd is now tuned-in to what's happening on stage because the actor is engaged so truly in her task. After a few moments she may begin to feel comfortable and back "on track," the actor expands her sphere of attention once again to include larger portions of the room, and so the audience. Performer and audience are connected once more in the glorious communion of theatre.
Repeat ad infinitum.