I’ve got a pretty loaded program this month in terms of shows I’m seeing, including several for the seminar I’m taking. What this has meant is that I’ve had to make some interesting choices in terms of scheduling when I’m seeing everything, and today was no exception.
I went to a matinee. On a Wednesday.
For those unfamiliar, French elementary school children don’t have class on Wednesdays, spending the day either at home with a parent/caretaker, or in a school-sponsored daycare program. If it’s the latter, often whoever’s in charge of the program will organize outings for the children, including to cultural centers such as museums and – oh yes – the theatre.
Let’s take a minute to guess at the average age of 3/4 of the audience members. If you answered 6, you are correct.
Here’s the thing though, even though the energy in the room was a lot more – exuberant – than what one normally encounters at the theatre, I didn’t actually mind it. Yeah, even when the kids were shouting at the stage, which they did…very often. This was a DADAist show after all, and if there is anything suited perfectly for kids, it’s this. Of course this has a lot to do with the fact that DADAism can trace some of its origins back to a sort of ‘rediscovery’ of childlike forms of play and a completely wonderful disregard for established order and logic, but what I found absolutely delightful this afternoon was the fact that without using any forms of speech but relying solely on gesture and spatial dynamics, the performers were able to engage the kids right away and keep them interested and curious as to what was happening for the next hour.
What really worked to the production’s advantage was keeping the house lights on for the first third of the show. Honestly, I almost wish they had kept them on for the entire show, as once the house lights went down, there was an almost default back to a purely frontal relationship, a distancing of the audience from what was happening on stage whereas before, we were invited in.
And it’s a shame that this distancing happened because, from what I could sense (and hear), the kids wanted to keep being ‘invited in’. And they didn’t give in to the new spatial order easily, exclaiming, shouting, launching short comments on what was happening as it was happening. There is no hard and fast rule, other than social norms and a general sense that one must conform to them, that says one must always remain completely silent during a show. Hell, for most of its history, the experience of going to the theatre included the expectation of a sort of vocal back-and-forth between the audience and what was going on onstage. Thankfully, these kids were still at that age where you really don’t care what other people think of them so the disruption ran wild (and was actually rather fun – and encouraging – to hear).