Working the Audience
Published: July 22nd, 2021 by theatretrain

Working the Audience

There’s a TV programme that I’m sure you have seen called The Voice. The hosts sit in elaborate red seats that face away from the singers. If they like what they hear they press a button and their chair revolves to face the singer. It shows they are interested in them.

I mention all this because I have been doing this for years before the programme was thought of. It started when I began visiting Theatretrain centres nearly 30 years ago. As a director and a teacher, it is important for me to see how the performers engage an audience.  We should never assume that they will be interested in what we are doing. Of course, when we are young it’s primarily about what mum and dad think but even young children can be taught that an audience has to be worked at. 

“I’m going to turn my back on you now and I’m only going to turn and face if you make me.”

When I visited a singing class, I would surprise them by saying,” I’m going to turn my back on you now and I’m only going to turn and face if you make me.” Off they went. Usually, they assumed they had to sing louder and I would automatically turn round but that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted something that reached out to ME rather than just the sound. I made it clear that I was still listening by turning slightly which made them try harder.

They become more focused as they tried to get me to turn. They started to really listen to each other – which is part of what I wanted. By listening to each other they made a more collective sound – a choir rather than a set of individuals. Sometimes this made them sound urgent or compelling and then I immediately turned round and they were pleased to see me do so. The point is you have to work on an audience to touch their feelings but first you have to touch those feelings yourself.             

“I think they assumed that their job was to sing and the audience’s job was to listen.”

Then I said, “What do you want the audience to feel?” Amazingly a lot of singers had never thought of that. I think they assumed that their job was to sing and the audience’s job was to listen. I don’t think audiences listen properly unless you catch their feelings. It’s back to the same place. If you know what you want the audience feel then as a group you can decide how you will make it happen.

In our big shows we give the choir a feeling they have to put into each song. We call it an attitude. For Elton’s John’s I’m Still Standing we asked them to convince the audience. An easy way to do that was to tell them that the audience doesn’t believe you and think you are a nobody.

If you tell a choir this they think “Right I’ll show them!” and they sing it totally differently and you can hear it in their voices. That was what I was looking for in our young performers – a spark to make me feel connected to what they were doing.

All this is part of how we work and you know what else? It’s more fun.

Our International Award-Winning performing arts schools, teaching young people skills in singing, acting, and dancing can provide your child with a performing arts class that encourages confidence, friendship, communication skills and so much more. If you would like to find out more about our weekend stage schools or your child has shown an interest in attending drama, dance and singing lessons then visit our website www.theatretrain.co.uk or follow us on Instagram by clicking here