Molly Beth Seremet

What might be the spectators’ responsibility towards a work’s ‘success’?

This is a complicated, multi-faceted issue, isn’t it?  I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I think, with a few visual and auditory aids…

  1. In a performance setting, spectators are along for whatever kind of ride the performance is taking.   As a spectator, trying to manipulate the trajectory of the work while the work is in performance is a bit like backseat driving, and can sometimes stifle the work.

To see what I mean, please watch this:  (“Corgi Dressed as Panda”).  The woman filming desperately wants the performer to do something cute in his fab new costume.  Her desire to control his behavior however, renders him unable to really perform anything but “grouchy performer in new costume.”

  1. On the other hand however, spectators should not feel that their only role is to silently witness the work as it unfolds.  Spectators are an equal partner in the work, in the moment to moment nature of performance.  As such, spectators are both watchers and creative partners in the work.

For an example, please watch this (“200 People Freeze in Place in Grand Central Station”).  As the performers from Improv Everywhere (a crowd-sourced performance group) gather in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, they all freeze in place on cue, and hold the pose for five minutes.  Confused spectators however, start assuming the same pose, in order to study the “frozen” performers.  The line between spectator and performer is blurred, and to another spectator, it might be unclear just who is who in that moment.

  1. The unpredictability of spectators occurs partially because the group of people who gathers to watch a work is rarely homogenous, and partially because one can really never predict what the hell a group of strangers will do when gathered into a group and asked to watch (or listen, etc.) to something.  This is sort of the beauty of spectators, isn’t it?  That “unknown quantity” that forms the backbone of a work.

This group decides together to be the preshow for a dolphin show in Thailand…. While the dolphins aren’t shown in the clip, they had a hard opening act to follow.

  1. Sometimes, spectators will know more about your work than you do, and shouldn’t be expected to pretend that they don’t to be “taught” by the performers.  And performers are best  off to roll with that.

Here’s this guy playing that other guy’s song.

  1. Sometimes however, spectators may not have a clue what it is the performers do.  Or how you do it.  Or how to do it themselves.  And spectators should feel welcome to be a part of what you do, and not be intimidated by an inability to replicate it.

She’s a true fan-girl.

  1. When the setting is right, the relationship between the spectator and the performer can blur, allowing a joint performance to emerge right then, just because it has to, because it’s bubbled out from spectator to spectator.  When this happens, the work crosses the line between spectator and performer, and becomes something more inclusive.

This occurred at a Boston hockey team’s first home game since the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.

In short, spectators have few distinct responsibilities, but hold the potential to influence a work in any possible direction.  Spectators wield awesome power, whether they know it or not, and a work that is open to the influence of the spectator may be changed in unexpected (and occasionally, thoroughly awesome, ways).


*** All videos are accessible via Youtube.  I do not own any of these videos:

  1. “Corgi Dressed as a Panda”

  1. “Frozen Grand Central”

  1. “Thai Audience Dance Party”

  1. “Billy Joel Sings with Student:

  1. “Beyonce Audience Participation Fail”

  1. “Boston Bruins National Anthem”

Molly Beth Seremet is an NYC-based writer, artist, burlesque performer, and cat snuggler.  She hates watching people spit, loves travelling, and thinks about Evelyn McHale a lot.  Visit her at