Taking a Leap of Faith!
There is hardly any entertainment form left which doesn’t take the audience beyond being passive observers. TV shows are increasingly incorporating live-tweeting. Bands get the audience singing and dancing along. YouTube content creators encourage live discussion below their videos. Theatre is taking a little longer to jump on this bandwagon but Strictly Ballroom is definitely pushing the entertainment form in the right direction!
The new Australian musical Strictly Ballroom is certainly looking into the future where audience participation will become a necessary component of all entertainment. Involving the audience in the story is more than just a cursory effort in this show, it forms one of the central components and the audience experience is all the better for it.
The latest trend in audience involvement is using them when an audience is required. Rather than using cast members to form an on-stage audience, show are actually using the real-life audience as an extra member of the cast. Announcers now interact with the audience. Soliloquys are rarely an internal monologue, now they tend to encourage dialogue with the audience. And Strictly Ballroom uses all of this to create a much more life-like dance competition before a sizeable audience.
But it doesn’t stop there.
In addition to using the audience as another character, Strictly Ballroom has structured their offer around incorporating the audience. Audience members are divided into certain teams based on the colour of their seat and get to cheer for their representative dancer. Two lucky (or unlucky) people get invited up onto the stage for a whole dance number to open Act 2. Everyone is encouraged to play the crucial role of providing the clapping soundtrack behind a crucial pasodoble. And the highlight comes at the end of the show when the audience gets up out of their seats and joins the dancers in the aisles and on the stage dancing away to the most famous song from the movie.
Younger generations don’t want to appreciate an artwork, they want to have some involvement in shaping the experience. If musical theatre is going to compete with all the other interactive entertainment options, including video games, rock concerts and social media, then follow the lessons of this show because the way the audience is involved in Strictly Ballroom heralds the future!