I went to go see Flip Fabrique (click to see their trailer) perform at the New Victory Theater yesterday. I had seen them last year at the contemporary circus festival in Chicago. I love their show; I think they are super talented, funny and all around awesome humans. They were definitely tired in the show I recently saw (they are just coming out of months in Berlin and this was the closing day of their shows in NYC), but one of the biggest things I felt there was that people in NY do not know how to handle themselves during a circus show.
Firstly, who is to blame for this deficit? It is hard to go too far without pointing a finger at that lovely and evil little screens in front out our faces. Most of the entertainment we engage with now is passive. Television, radio shows, Reddit, aside from the occasional “LOL”, there is little external reaction. There was a time if you wanted to be entertained you had to get some people to come over and entertain you. Now I am not trying to overly romanticize this idea; I love my computer, it is the last thing I see before I go to sleep and the first thing I check when I wake up. But unless you have a lot of experience with live entertainment it can seem odd to react audibly when engaging with one’s entertainment. Most theater now is at a minimum “a bit” pretentious. You get dressed up, probably go out for dinner/drinks before, bring your fancy lady/man friend and quietly take your place in the dark and sit waiting to be entertained. But that is not how Circus works.
Circus for me is best when it does everything television can’t do. Circus is meant to surprise you (it is hard to watch a show where you can’t predict the ending before you even start), to catch you off guard, to make you nervous, to question what is going to happen next. All of these things are much more demanding occupations that the passivity of sitting back like a god and watching a world be created for you, as is with most television. This isn’t a recording, this is a life event; people can fall, mistakes will be made. This is a one time event no other show will be exactly like the one you are seeing, and no one else will see it the same as you, ever. This personalization of experience and newness is one of the things that I believe keeps people coming back to see live theater (and circus). But for this level of personal attention and uniqueness, there is a price.
For the privilege of a live performance, you enter into a contract with the performers, where they are here to entertain you and you as an audience member HAVE TO MAKE SOME NOISE! No matter how hard you cheer and clap at a TV screen the only thing you will ever do is piss your neighbors off. However, at a live event, (at a circus show), the performers need your energy. There is a real and direct exchange between the performers and the patrons and I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to have an awake and engaged audience out in the house. If you want to see a good show, you have to be prepared to sit up and give some love to those people sweating for your entertainment J
This isn’t an invitation to heckle or scream or distract. This isn’t about you, it is about the performers and you get a moment enjoy their years/decades of dedication to a cruel mistress. You also don’t need to take your phone out to make a crappy little video you will just watch once and forget about. Be present in the moment! In this age where I can be in a hundred countries and one thousand screens at the same time, take an hour to be where you are. Look at the real people in front of you, and let them know you are out there and that you appreciate what they are doing. It hurts my heart to see a company as good as Flip Fabrique struggle to drum up applause from a sleepy afternoon audience after they just bust their ass for an hour and a half. So make some noise for the professionals doing it every day, and for the weekend warriors at student showcases. The risk, the fear, the hurt is real and these are real people going through it all, for you! Don’t be afraid you will do it wrong, just show your love. I promise it will make the show better for everyone. 🙂