November 14, 2012
At a certain moment during the show, I walk over to a member of the audience and ask them to do something that will help Edmund trick his father.
It's a moment that I've spoken about before on this blog, but in this instance as in that, I won't say anymore so as not to spoil the surprise for anybody.
Towards the end of our first week playing at the Drake centre in Ohio, something happened that has never happened before - the audience member refused. She was very polite and civil about it, but she was also quite firm.
Once I'd recovered from the initial surprise, I cobbled together some vaguely satisfactory ad-lib and then enlisted the help of the person sitting next to her, who happily obliged. Normal service resumed, then.
But as I staggered back down to the stage, I realised that what was really shocking was not that the person refused, but that I'd never even thought to plan for that eventuality. It had never crossed my mind.
What was I thinking? I'd been lucky enough that, in almost 50 performances, this had never happened - but I can't believe I overlooked the fact that there was always a chance it might.
Because, after all, if we're going to be honest in the way we handle this relationship between Edmund and the audience, then anything they do is valid.
We're trying to create a genuine moment of interaction between performer and audience, and that will only work if I respond honestly to what they do - it's not for me to stage manage them into what I expect or want them to do. If the audience member is free to respond to my request however they want, then that includes refusing it.
Edmund and I both hope that they don't refuse too often. The younger members of the audience are usually keen to get involved by this point of the play, and I want to enjoy a bit of mischief with them.
But the episode serves as a timely reminder that, when you engage with the audience that directly, it really is a leap into the unknown.
by Ben Deery
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