Conduct us!

It is all well and good to buy a chocolate bar. But if you can only stare at it instead of eating it, then why bother buying the chocolate bar in the first case. The same thing goes for live performance events – if you can’t actually interact or shape the performance, then why bother?

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There is a very cool company called Improv Everywhere and this is how they describe themselves:

Improv Everywhere is a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.

Basically, they use thousands of undercover agents to pull off weekly interactive stunts that are then broadcast across the internet (and seen by many millions of people worldwide). They have been behind many internet sensations such as the ‘Frozen Grand Central Station’ and the ‘Food Court Musical’. Check out this stunt from a couple of weeks ago involving a conductor-less orchestra.

If you haven’t seen the video before, some high class musicians assembled in a New York City park behind a conductor’s podium with the words ‘Conduct Us!’ printed across the front. As the stunt wore on, people approached the stand and the orchestra reacted to their inventive and funny conducting styles.

Have a look at the crowd in the video that surrounds the orchestra. These are not your typical classical music junkies, but yet they are having heaps of fun watching the stunt and even stepping up to the conductor’s podium and giving conducting a whirl. So why are these people watching if they wouldn’t usually spend their recreational time listening to this music?

Of course, the novelty and strangeness of the stunt is going to grab people’s attention. But the quality that gets them to stay . . . interaction.

In a musical or play, audience reactions will often receive a well-timed raised eyebrow from members of the cast or accidentally cause them to have to hold in laughter on stage. I remember when I saw The Addams Family on Broadway. It was the same night as Larry King’s last night as a talk-show host. As a result, Jackie Hoffman (Grandma) broke out into an impromptu monologue about Larry King while staying in character and due to the intensely positive reaction from the crowd she just kept pushing this monologue. Everyone in the crowd was basically rolling on the floor and it was at this point that the members of the cast who were sitting around a long table on stage began to start looking down at the table.

It eventually occurred to the audience that the cast were trying to obscure their faces because Jackie Hoffman’s monologue was cracking them up and forcing them out of character as the suitably dour members of the Addams clan. And this only spurred the audience on in their uncontrollable laughter.

This audience interaction is missing from classical music. There aren’t the opportunities for audience members’ reaction to shape the performance. And the way which the crowds have taken to this stunt suggests that it is about time we found a way to get the audience involved because the people who step up to the conductor’s podium cannot get enough of it!

And isn’t that the experience that we want audience members to remember when they leave a theatre?

Thanks to Adam for the inspiration for this article!

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