Intimate performance is overrated

There’s a great piece in today’s Guardian UK Theatre & Performing Arts blog about crowds and their relation to how theatre is received and understood:

“We have come to think of crowds as a bad thing. They are the hordes who slow us down on our way to work; they are the volatile sports fans who might at any moment become a violent mob; they are the mass of zealots burning books or stoning enemies. And yet whenever a play of mine has transferred from a smaller to a larger space I’ve always been amazed and delighted. In front of a larger audience, the story moves more nimbly and ideas are grasped more quickly. When you’ve got 700 people watching a performance, rather than 17, everything about your work is accessed more readily.”

– Mark Ravenhill

Check out the full post, here.

How do crowds affect the way you think about theatre? Would your work be better if it was being performed in front of more people? Is intimate performance overrated?

9 thoughts on “Intimate performance is overrated

  1. Mark is talking about the financial rewards, even though he won’t admit it. I agree, audiences of 700 are much better than houses of 17. Ka-ching!

  2. I don’t really understand Ravenhill’s perspective here. “We have come to think of crowds as a bad thing”? We have? Because crowds are stoning enemies and burning books? Bit of a stretch there. The rest of the article reads pretty specious as well.

    How is everything about a work “accessed more readily” for me based on the size of the crowd I’m in? If the piece is of an intimate dramatic nature I’m not going to be served effectively at the back of a 700 seat auditorium. If it’s spectacle, avante-garde or musical a large theatre would be fine, perhaps I may even “grasp the ideas more quickly”, but my experience of a play isn’t really affected so much by the reactions of the rest of the crowd that I would condemn intimate theatre as ineffectual in its delivery.

    Actually the only benefit I can see is a financial one. If I’m in the same room as the performers I prefer to get as up close and personal to the experience as I can. I do, however, know some people that prefer to stay back a ways for the sake of their own comfort. I’m not sure that theatre is necessarily supposed to be comfortable though.

  3. Ravenhill is talking crap, just like his plays.

    I saw “Shopping & F*cking” a few years back, and I don’t remember a single thing about it.

  4. I told you, I sat through a whole performance of his most well-known play and I immediately forgot about it. Frankly, I have no opinion of his work at all.

  5. I wonder if it just seems to him as if the ideas are more readily accessed by a larger audience because with more people, you’re more likely to have a few who’ll make some noise.

    I enjoy being part of an intimate audience and being as close to the action as possible, but some audiences (particularly the small ones, but not always) seem almost afraid to give any kind of audible reaction during the performance and will give the evil eye to anyone who does. Sometimes I feel more like I’m at compline than at a play!

    I saw an enormously funny play a few years ago, and a guy in front of me who was laughing (not obnoxiously or anything like that) was being shushed by a woman sitting next to him. And this was a crowd of probably at least a couple hundred, many of whom were laughing heartily. That made no sense to me. The play demanded laughs and, surely, that woman heard the rest of the crowd laughing along with her neighbor.

    Some people obviously don’t believe in vocalizing their reactions during a play, so if you have an intimate crowd of those people, you’re probably going to think your play wasn’t received very well. But perhaps they grasped the ideas quite readily and were just quiet about it. How do we know?

    But what about the actors? When the house is small and quiet, is their ability to access their characters affected?

  6. Good questions Mary. I don’t know.

    I have this image in my head that actors enjoy playing to large houses – like rock stars, the bigger the venue the bigger the star, the more “electrifying” the performance.

    I guess it would depend on the actor and the situation and whatnot.

    Do any of the actors out there have an opinion on this? Does playing to big houses get your creative juices flowing? The bigger the house, the better?

  7. The ideal theatre audience IMO would be 90 very smart, appreciative people, each of them paying $2500.

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