Audience participation - How, why, when?

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Audience participation - How, why, when?

Postby Wesley » November 29th, 2005, 1:52 pm

One of the things we talked about in notes (and continuing over sushi) after last weekend's Maestro was audience participation and how to get the audience into the show more, even without getting them literally "into" the show. We talked a little about the pacing, and how to heighten it, and it is a conversation that I'd like to continue (especially in light of the Dream thread).

One thing that we sometimes have trouble with is audience participation and we often just write it off as "it was a cold audience." This weekend was a prime example. We did a number of audience games, but the audience wasn't wont to participate. Improvisers volunteered after the lag in audience response, with one person going up twice in the same show because no one else would.

One of the things we discussed was that we seem to basically have two ways of getting the audience into the show at this point. They yell at us (asking for suggestions, Hesitation Debate, etc) or they literally get on stage and take part (Twin Pillars, Moving Bodies, Word-at-a-Time Expert, etc). And while we do mix things up a bit, other than Category Die, we tend to bring people on stage before we have them yell (Hesitation Debate is usually a Round 3 game, while we will bring up an audience member to play at Word-at-a-Time Expert or that Clumping Game in the first scene).

So, my first question is...1. Is that the right way to go about it?
Granted, Hesitation Debate may need to wait because it can be a harder game than Word-at-a-Time, but should we try to get the audience more used to interacting before we bring someone on stage? Are they ready to get up right away or should we ease them into that? We can still play Word-at-a-Time expert for example, but should we stick to merely taking questions from the audience and easing them in that way? Is it overload to do both (take a volunteer and ask for questions) in the first round (esp. in the same game)?
I love using the audience, but I'm starting to think that maybe it is too much too soon to bring them up in Round 1. For one thing, they just got comfortable and settled in to watch. They may be sipping a beer and not ready to move. For another, if an audience member does tank in the first round, you can scratch the idea of enlisting any more for the night. Third, maybe they aren't "into" it yet. Maybe we need to whet their appetite and have them see a round and build up that feeling of "Man, I can do that!" or "I want to try that!"

My second question is...2. Can we find other ways of getting the audience to participate?
Along the lines of heightening, we do the Bonnie game or some such with the audience before the show to warm them up. Then we ask for suggestions for Category Die, but there is a definite gap in that and jumping straight to bringing someone on stage. We should think on some games like the Dream or Eulogy game that are more intermediary, where we take a volunteer, but only for an interview (personal, but very low pressure). Or get back to games that the audience gets to sort of partake in, like taking questions for an advice panel or having a conversation with the audience (a la the talk in one voice game where they engage in conversation with the audience).
Plus, there are a number of other ways we can incorporate the audience without risk to themsleves. We can get them to write out lines of dialogue or stage directions before the show for use in those games where people pick up pieces of paper off the floor. Or we could do a rapid fire game like Whose Line does with audience sugestions (maybe as an elimination game? Like that game they do "Worst Line to hear from your Doctor/Mother/Priest/etc" and then players jump out in rapid succession with a line until they don't have one or the audience doesn't like it. But we could collect suggestions earlier, on paper, rather than on the spot). We can let one of them New Choice whatever they want in that game (so they participate as a director, not a player). Heck, we can even get really wacky and give them all water balloons to let loose during a scene. (OK, maybe not that far, but we can give them other things to do is the point.)

3. What do we do when there is a delay in response?
If there is a "cold" audience, should we avoid audience participation games as much as possible? If we ask for a volunteer and none steps forward, should we ask again one, two, or three games later or does that make it awkward?

4. How should we ask for volunteers?
Another point that was brought up was in how we ask for volunteers--that we ask before telling them what they will be doing. Is this the best way to do it or should we say we need two volunteers to stand up here on stage and feed words and phrases to the players when they touch you on the shoulder. Would knowing what they are getting into help or hinder getting people to raise their hands? Do some people who return time and again have a favorite game they might volunteer for if they knew what was about to be played? Could merely asking in a different way help alleviate some of the lag in response and "coldness" of an audience? If so, how should we ask?

My thoughts on this are all speculation. I'm curious to hear from others.[/b]
Last edited by Wesley on May 12th, 2013, 2:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby acrouch » November 29th, 2005, 3:40 pm

These are all excellent speculations and the kind of thing we need to be doing if we're going to take Maestro to the next level.

Because there is a next level. There's a delightful inspiring show out there waiting for us to find it in which brave and humble improvisers take the stage and do everything humanly possible to make the audience wish they were on the stage with them.

I think you're absolutely right on almost every point, but more than having a regimented way of going about audience participation, we want to get adept at rolling with whatever kind of audience we've got. We don't give up on a cold audience, we figure out how to break through the distance and bring them in from wherever they are by creating comfortability and excitement.

Forms of Audience participation:
1) Ask for a simple suggestion
2) Solicit a story or complex suggestion from an audience member
4) Take written suggestions before or during the show
5) Engage the audience in the game (Hesitation Debate, expert interview, or talking to them as a character in anything)
6) Get an audience member up on stage
7) Put an audience member in the show
8) Undreamt of audience participation that we will soon discover

We should be doing most of these in every show. People like it. And depending on the audience, a gradual build or a plunge into the deep might both be appropriate. With a full raucous audience, I would pull an audience member at the top of the show to fill in an empty space on the board and then keep going hard and fast with audience participation. With a more sedate audience, I agree, we should experiment with ways of warming them up to participation. Any ideas?
Last edited by acrouch on May 12th, 2013, 2:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby beardedlamb » November 29th, 2005, 3:47 pm

it all depends on whether the audience member thinks they are going to fail and what the consequences of that potential failure are.
the thing that really sets people at ease is how they feel about the performers. if they've seen positive cooperation and a general sense of family between the players, they'll be envious and want to join in. they'll also feel safer about failure, either forgetting about it entirely or accepting it as a natural fact of life. when i do my one man show (bigly huge), i start it off with an audience interview. it's the first thing that happens in the show and that usually means that the only thing they have to go on is their initial impression of me. i try to appear very approachable and relaxed as if nothing can go wrong. i bring them up and reiterate that it's just two people talking and it's no big deal.
in the context of maestro, you may find that taking volunteers is better a little bit into the show. let them settle down and get their bearings on what the hell is happening. if promotions and marketing are working, most of your audience will be seeing this environment for the first time. the players and directors are already very familiar with the surroundings and the proceedings of the show. newbies are probably scared of the whole process and unsure of their safety.

isn't there some statistic about how more people prefer death to public speaking? i think that's a great indicator of how scared the general population is of being in front of strangers.

audience psycholgy is actually something i'm more and more interested in. i've done a different solo show called All In, where I require that every audience member take part in a scene at some point dring the show. i bring them up one or two at a time, ask them what their interested in so that they feel safe about the content of the scene, then dive right in and improvise with them. if i sense anything about them in this brief, initial interview section, i try to adjust the scene to take care of their needs. someone who is not talkative might feel good about doing a silent scene or one where they only have one word to use for dialogue. someone who's trying to be funny might be good in a verbose talk show setting scene.
in the intro for this show i explain the nature of failure and support and how they are both key for improv and life in general. i explain to the audience that it is their job to support their fellow audience members while they are on stage because eventually they'll be up there, too. everyone must play. some really amazing things have happened. one older lady was extremely nervous about her scene which i put in a bar. i made an experienced improviser from the audience play her bartender. she kept saying she wouldn't know what to say, and she was really worried. in the setup i removed myself from the scene and told her i would feed her lines of dialogue. if she didn't know what to say she could just look at me and i would whisper it to her. after two or three lines she was done needing my help and provided some amazingly funny lines. and the audience went nuts because they knew how nervous she was before the scene. they loved seeing one of their own succeed and give herself over to the moment.
for maestro, if the audience understands the environment and the stakes for a volunteer, they'll be more willing to support and thrilled that one of their own has succeeded. it's a great way to guarantee a five if you support the hell out of the audience member and make it easy for them to succeed.

i have more to say about this but i have already said too much. my publisher would be very supset to find i have given away so much book. please get my book, Prov Psyche, at barnes and noble.

there is just so much to say. . .
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