“Will I feel taken care of?”
That question is on my mind every time I sit down in a theater.
Performers require a lot of their audiences: Put your phone away, stay still, and don’t talk, eat, or sleep for the next 90 minutes.
The requests are reasonable. Since the audience is part of the work, the performers can only succeed if the audience plays its role too.
It’s a non-verbal contract, but we rarely talk about what the other side of that contract is. We expect a performance, certainly, but we also expect to be taken care of.
What does that mean? It’s complicated, but it boils down to a handful of things:
Are the creators of the show respecting my attention?
Did the show start reasonably on time? Are the transitions short? Did the marketing honestly represent the experience and set correct expectations?
Was there care put into the overall design of the show?
Is it cohesive? Can I hear OK and are the sound levels balanced? Can I see what I’m supposed to?
Are the performers having fun?
Or are they straining to hit their note, find their light, remember their text, and connect with each other and the audience?
It’s easy to conflate taking care of your audience with creating a good show. The two certainly go hand in hand, but the former is more intangible. I can often tell if I’m going to feel taken care of as an audience member long before I know if the show itself is good.
This idea is not limited to theatre, of course. It holds true if you’re hosting a dinner party, writing a memo to your colleagues, or running a soccer practice.
Anytime others have given you their attention, you can thank them for it by showing up prepared. If you’re trying to create work that matters, start by taking care of your audience, and the rest will fall into place.