Once they settle into their seats, the topography of an audience is a fascinating thing to measure. Bleecker 45 is a 300 seat house with a thrust stage, meaning the audience envelops the performer on the left and right side: the stage thrusts into the audience. Take from that what you will.
What’s most intriguing is the distinct reactions you hear from each area. Perhaps, like the left and right brain, audience left and right are accountable for different functions.
Not unlike the right cranial hemisphere, those sitting stage right are more verbal, more expressive. They appear to get the over all with more clarity, and more quickly, whereas there’s much more chin scratching on the left. Like that part of the brain, it feels like the left is lost in thought, dissecting the individual parts.
Front Row People are a distinct, almost archtypical breed. There are the first tickets that sell via Telecharge, so you often get your most avid theatergoers. They sit very still, wide-eyed, moving only to dodge the spittle from consonants like P and T.
Watch any concert video from Led Zeppelin to George Michael and you’ll see the blissed-out look of the Front Row People. Scientists have hypothesized that such close proximity triggers a biochemical transference with the spectacle unfolding so closely in front of them. There’s no barrier between them and the artist. No other energy to get in the way. So if the performer is on, and the adrenaline is flowing, so will it be in the spectator.
This is the opposite of the Back Row Distracted. More often than not, these are the people who smoked way too much dope in high school. They’re in the back because they’re rebels. They bought tickets at the last minute because they didn’t really wanna see this stupidass play. And they take advantage of their anonymity by rustling, shifting, and sighing.
Fortunately, the Back Row Distracted are balanced by the Eager Broke: students and other artists who simply can’t afford a closer seat. They sit transfixed, following every moment with respectful attention, emitting loud shushes and daggered gazes to match the apathetic ho-hums of their very likely stoned row mates. It’s the battle of the galleys during every performance, though you don’t realize it.
Then there’s the Centré audience, which at it’s best, can be like the middle of a high-grade filet: melt in your mouth juicy. This area of seating is also the most vulnerable to groupthink, as they are sandwiched between all the reactions around them. They’re getting hit aurally from the laughter behind them, and can see the spasms of those giggling in front of them. They are going to go with the flow.
It can work against you though, as they can just as easily be influenced by the impatient shifts and head bobs of those falling asleep. (There is a special category for The Snorer. And right next to that category is the person who doesn’t nudge the snorer awake. You’re both going to a kinder ring of Dante’s Inferno).
In short, any good performance will include a strategy for controlling not only the middle, but also the entire house. There are varying methodologies for success. One can take the Napoleonic approach of slowly wearing down the flanks, and then diving through the center, or one could opt for Alexander the Great’s technique, which charges head forth into the center, splits it open, and then devours from the inside out.
It all depends on your view from the stage. Yes, we performers are watching you, the audience, just as closely. And man, can you put on a show.