Borrowing from the Ancient Greeks

Examining the Audience Experience is not a new idea. No marketer invented this idea in the last century. It has travelled all the way from Ancient Greece (and they probably stole it from someone else!), yet still it is missing in a lot of entertainment marketing. However, when it is harnessed correctly it is almost unstoppable as Diane Paulus clearly shows!

Theater Review Pippin

I love TED talks. Whenever I have a spare moment I try to find a new TED talk on any topic under the sun because they all have a moving universal message that can be applied anywhere. And yesterday I stumbled upon a talk by Diane Paulus at TEDxBroadway.

For those of you unfamiliar with Diane Paulus, she is a rather formidable Tony Award-winning director. She has directed; a highly acclaimed revival of Hair on Broadway, operas for Chicago Opera Theatre, the recent circus-themed Broadway revival of Pippin, a number of restaged Shakespeare works set in the modern era and even a Cirque du Soleil show. So she has just a bit of experience directing some stellar hits!

But what is her secret?

Every show starts with the audience experience.

She started off talking about the history of the theatre. Back in Ancient Greece, theatre was part of a festival. Works were based on contemporary topics of the time, audiences talked through the performances shouting from their seats and no day of theatre ever ended on a dramatic note – it always ended with a comedy to leave people walking home laughing. Shakespearean England was rather similar. Audiences were packed together in what can only be described as a theatrical mosh pit, there was intense audience involvement and the stories closely represented the current political happenings through a very thin veil. Dramatically different behaviours to the current industry.

Currently we sit quietly in the dark abiding by out-of-date morays of behaviour set up by Mahler who was the first person to turn the lights off on the audience. But there is no reason that we have to stay with this model for entertainment.

And it is this history of audience experience which has inspired Diane Paulus’ modern directions. Restaging a Shakespeare work in a disco where the audience energy feeds off itself in a similar way to the mosh pit in the Globe. Adding some circus-y components to the traditional coming of age musical Pippin to reflect the strong move towards active entertainment in Cirque du Soleil. Ensuring that every night 300 people come up onstage and dance in the finale of Hair in every theatre is plays at in the country.

She has been successful because of one thing. There is a focus on every person who walks out that door having a meaningful experience in the theatre (or disco).

It is by no means a new idea as it was used in Ancient Greece and Shakespearean England, but then sometimes there is no need to reinvent the wheel. What you have to do is take the inspiration and then mould it onto your current audiences which is what Diane Paulus does so well!