October 01, 2012

Everybody clap now!

I have always hated audience participation. When a performer on stage asks me to clap, or to sing a portion of the song, or to raise a finger to the sky and twirl around and pretend to get drunk, my immediate reaction is to balk like a horse asked to cross a shallow puddle.

Maybe I'm just contrary, or maybe I'm no fun. It's a possibility I've considered.

But last night I went to Amanda Palmer's show at the Neptune in Seattle, and at some point during the encore I realized that I was happily clapping, stomping, and singing when instructed to as part of an "experiment with crowd-sourced percussion."

We are the drums, too.

The whole show was a lesson for me in audience participation. It was so qualitatively different from anything I've been to before that I want to call it something else. I think I will term it audience involvement. Before the show people were invited to send in pictures that were projected during various songs. At the show there was a box for people to write specific sad stories that were then read by Palmer between songs and used in a song to pretty stunning effect. There was also a scroll of paper on which people wrote who they wanted to be, which was incorporated into the show. So was the fruit that some people had brought (though apparently not in the initial spirit of the fruit, which is still a secret), and the flashlights.

All of this was integrated seamlessly--or at least hilariously--into the experience of the evening. Though I had nothing to do with most of it, I could feel how all of this brought us together into a community, how we were all part of the concert. The division between performer and audience grew smaller, such that by the end of the night when the drummer said clap I clapped willingly. Nobody ever said, "I can't hear you!" or goaded us into doing "better." They didn't need to.

Amanda Palmer is, by any measure, a terrific performer. When she wants people to feel sad we feel sad, and then she mocks the whole concept of feelings and we laugh. As an audience member I trust her completely--something fabulous is going to happen. If I have to stomp my feet to make it happen, I will.

This is (shockingly) a lot like writing. The more trust a reader has in a writer, based on things like his or her previous works or the technical skill on display, the more crazy crap that reader will put up with, even revel in. I guess it's the same for me with audience participation.

Who knew?

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