Setting the Mood

Theatre is slowly moving away from an audience passively watching entertainment on a stage towards favouring more experiential techniques to incorporate the audience into the show. Audiences are now actually stepping into the African savannah, a 1950’s club or a fantastical fantasy land and having an increasingly valuable (and unique) experience. And this is exactly what Sweet Charity is doing at the Arts Centre Melbourne.

Sweet Charity

Experiential is in. Traditional is out.

This is the new direction of the theatre because it provides the audience with an experience that cannot be replicated by movies and cast recordings. There is a really need to go to the theatre to experience this unique entertainment.

The Broadway revival (and original production) of Cabaret has been a big contributor to this kind of theatre. Transforming the famous Studio 54 theatre back into a cabaret club, it featured seating around small, black cabaret tables in a dimly lit space rather than traditional theatre seating. As soon as the audience walk into this space they are transported back to the height of the jazz age essentially entering the musical Cabaret themselves.

One Man, Two Guvnors, achieves the same thing with a bit of pre-show entertainment. The onstage skiffle band is playing on stage as soon as the audience walks in. Setting the scene of the show, the audience is encouraged to believe they have time travelled rather than entering the typical theatre experience. And this adds inordinate amounts of extra value as the show essentially begins 15 minutes early providing an unanticipated extra.

Now it is Sweet Charity‘s turn. The highly acclaimed Australian production is making its way around the country with a new, darker interpretation of the famous show. But, like One Man, Two Guvnors, the show doesn’t start at the time on the tickets. As soon as the audience walks in, the stage is already set as the seedy Fandango Ballroom with several of the taxi dancers on stage waiting for an interested gentleman to walk in the door.

And those interested gentlemen are not part of the cast, they are part of the audience.

Two bouncers at the front of the stage encourage audience members to go up on stage for a dance with the girls as though the doors to the theatre had taken them into the set of Sweet Charity.

Great extra value for the selected dancers. Great extra value for the audience as they watch these funny scenes play out on stage with audience members a little unsure what they are doing dancing in front of several hundred people. (Although maybe not great extra value for the audience members selected by the bouncers who don’t want to go up. But they are generally all good sports as they are directed towards the seats on the stage rather than the seat they paid for!).

The same thing happened at the end of the interval as the show is about to enter the ‘Rhythm of Life’ scene with a questionable church. The performers are out in the audience handing out church programmes as though the audience is actually attending the service themselves.

These are only little additions to the show, but these extra bits of audience interaction help to provide huge amounts of extra value above what paying audiences were expecting. And when they are extra satisfied, they become even more emphatic show ambassadors to all their friends and family!