A contract with the audience

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So on Friday we spent a bit of time chewing through an alternative format for the show (what we’ve described as the Deer and Fish model), but also we talked in detail about what our audience contract will be.

This is a term that we use pretty regularly in our practice, both Boho and Applespiel – it might be that it’s a really widespread phrase in interactive performance practice, or it might be that we learned it from the same source (thx Chris Ryan), but it’s definitely a useful idea for our line of work.

Every performance (every public event, really) has an audience contract, but mostly you don’t need to state them or think about them too deeply, because you learn the rules when you’re young and they never deviate. In a traditional theatre show the contract is something like: The actors will stay on stage, they will pretend to be characters talking to one another, they will perform the story in a contained box which you can view from the outside – meanwhile the audience will stay in their seat, will be quiet, will be ignored by the performers until the very end, when the actors will come out and acknowledge them.

As soon as you step away from these conventions, you start running into challenges, because now the audience doesn’t know the rules. So part of our process, every time, is to figure out as a group, and then explicitly state:

– Who are the audience in this performance?
– What are their obligations?
– What are ours?

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Miljoverkstan have their own goals for what they want this show to do, but in order to be able to deliver them, we need to set up a framework that the audience/participants can be comfortable in. So in our first pass at it, that framework might look something like:

  • You, the audience, are people in the world
  • As people, we are all responsible for the management of complex systems
  • Flaten is an example of a complex system
  • By learning about Flaten we can learn more about the systems each of us are involved in
  • Flaten is changing, and has been in constant change
  • Many of those changes have been instigated by humans
  • We want to make more informed, active and intentional changes
  • We’re going to show you our conception of some of the parts that make up Flaten
  • Then we’re going to ask your input about what you might change in this system
  • Through this experience we hope to give you some tools to better think about the systems that are important to you

There’s no way we’d say this to the audience – at least not in these words – but it’s crucial that they understand what our intention is as artists in making this show, what’s expected of them, and how we hope they’ll view it. That’s not everyone’s practice in making theatre, but it’s a key part of ours, and it feels important here to be clear about that.

So my question is: Is this a fair description of our goals in presenting this show? And can we give the audience what we’ve promised them here?

– David

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