Taking Care of Your Audience
I was recently fortunate enough to be able to attend the Istanbul Theatre Festival. I'm a big fan of seeing theatre in languages I don't understand as it forces me to pay attention and allows me to see things in the show that I would probably miss if I were focussed on the language. (Purchasing tickets is always a challenge but that just adds to the experience.)
One of the shows I saw was by Tiyatro Artı, who play with alternative staging techniques. After a bit of an adventure getting to the venue (the address Google maps gave me was to an apartment, where thankfully some very kind exchange students helped me look up the actual address), I arrived just in time to be handed a blindfold and instructed, in Turkish, to put it on in the lobby.
The audience were lead into the theatre, blindfolded and in single file. We were positioned around the space where for the first third of the show, we acted as prisoners, berated by a Turkish guard. It was an incredibly vulnerable feeling, standing in the dark in a space I'd never seen, surrounded by people I didn't know, and being verbally assaulted in a language I don't understand. But I was also struck by how safe I had been made to feel before the show. The man who gave me my blindfold was very kind and were all very carefully guided one at a time into our positions in the theatre. The care and trust that the company built up before the show started made for an unguarded audience willing to play along.
I realized how important trust is to an audience having the best experience they can. Especially for shows that delve in to dark territory or require participation, an audience that feels respected and well taken care of are going to be more willing to play along. In order to make the best possible work, we have to take care of our audiences in the same way we take care of our artists.