Monday, June 16, 2008

Attention Must Be Paid

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.


Lea Maria said...

I think your sentiment about actors being aware and "working" to win an audience over is pretty accurate--as is the observation that when they really focus in on the scene they draw themselves back into the playing action, and thereby re-focus the audience into the world of the play. So you acknowledge the audience in that they're there, you have to do some of your blocking facing out to the fourth wall, but unless you're using the audience as a means to propel the action (ie: breaking the fourth wall to continue the story/convey a point), you're also working to unacknowledge them, in a sense. But it always comes back to serving the play, the story at hand, and dealing in those terms you are letting the audience in on what's going on--letting them ease drop--but the fact that they're hearing it should not affect the immediate action (unless, of course, that is the point).

Pinter talks about this in a sense when discussing playwriting:
"The theatre is a large, energetic, public activity. Writing is, for me, a completely private activity, a poem or a play, no difference. These facts are not easy to reconcile. The professional theatre, whatever the virtues it undoubtedly possesses, is a world of false climaxes, calculated tensions, some hysteria, and a good deal of inefficiency. And the alarms of this world which I suppose I work in become steadily more widespread and intrusive. But basically my position has remained the same. What I write has no obligation to anything other than to itself. My responsibility is not to audiences, critics, producers, directors, actors or to my fellow men in general, but to the play in hand, simply..."

That being said, theatre couldn't exist without an audience, as we all know. So while we work to convey our message, and still unacknowledge them in order to do our work truthfully and with less artifice, they are, perhaps,the very reason our art even exists.

Just my (condensed) thoughts.

Lea Maria said...

PS: I pulled the Pinter reference from his speech "Writing for the Theatre" from 1962, 4th paragraph.