One of my bugbears as Artistic Director of a company of friends is my inability to cajole, persuade or even command us as a company to really commit to a full bow and take the applause.
We find it difficult, it’s expected, a sign of respect between audience and performer. But somehow it also feels at times alienating, as if there is an overbearing expectation of us and the audience to go through this formal ritual. It’s important at the end to come together to acknowledge the conclusion of the event but is dropping your head in reverence while simultaneously accepting the admiration and thanks of the crowd really the best we can do? After which the performers scurry to a dressing room while audiences head to the front of house bar or out of the door. Is that short ritual enough of an exchange to conclude the world that has been created and dismiss its participants back into the real world?
We are currently on tour throughout England and Wales with Feral. It’s a show that has been with us now for over a year. Early on in presenting the show we noticed people were eager to see more up close and even take photos as they left. So now at the end of these shows we will invite the audience to come on stage and explore our set and puppets (they are tiny and full of Amelia Bird’s amazingly detailed design). It is a really important part of sharing the experience and rounding off the evening in a way that allows us to connect with the audience. The show is, peculiarly, focused towards a screen rather than towards the auditorium, we work with little direct connection to the audience throughout the show and it feels important to have a chat at the end.
In these moments we will get a plethora of stories, questions and remarks from our audience. It’s always enriching and enlightening. For us, it instantly has become less of a presentation now and much more of a meaningful exchange. We have been offered some great stories and insights into local communities – we have seen audience members share in moments together and strike up discussions that may well continue into the bar and beyond. Suddenly the collective experience of theatre is alive for us when the stage is buzzing full of people who have ownership over that moment – they can express gratitude, critique or any other revelations to us and to others – a lot more than any clapping of the hands is permitted to say. It’s not perfect and its definitely particular to this show – not every piece can and should end in this way – but it’s got me thinking about how we end our shows, bows don’t have to be a given.
But in saying that, just before we invite the audience up – we take a bow and they applaud – its what’s to be expected.