Speed Essay: The Lost Art of Audience

Happy Thursday, y’all.

Question: When approaching a public restroom, be it at a restaurant or even at work, do you knock first? (For best results, be honest with yourself.)

Not trying to paint myself as the star of my own show here, but I have the habit of knocking no matter what (for motivation, see past experiences 1 and 2).

Also, at the top, originally, I planned this as a poor man’s essay, but I feel a loosely-structured rant coming on, so bear with me.

I think it stems back to my high school drama teacher (that’s right nerds, theater or bust), and her emphasis on our behavior as an audience member above most everything else. Sure, we learned tricks to remember our lines, how to take and even deliver stage direction, how to emote and express our characters’ stories, but what was always emphasized was how we minded our manners when we weren’t on stage.

You might think it’s as easy as, “Sit down, be quiet, and be attentive,” and a lot of it really does come down to those three little tenets. But there’s more to it than that, there’s a consideration that comes with applying those three rules. Stage performance isn’t like a TV show, wherein the interaction is one-way. You’re not supposed to say anything and the actors’ questions (if there are any) are rhetorical, true, but it’s kind of a two-way street.

If you’ve never been to a stand-up comedy show – first off, holy shit, you owe it to yourself not to be a humorless turd, but secondly – go to one. It’s a perfect parallel to what I’m trying to get to. There’s an interaction and a tacit social contract between the performer and the audience that roughly states, “I agree to be a part of this interaction, to remain quiet, attentive, and understanding of its context; but in being attentive, I know when and how to be considerate of the performer, giving my energy to the reactions being requested by the performer at given times.”

Now, that was a lot, but the TL;DR is: When they make a joke, I’ll laugh, because if I don’t, that ruins the flow and makes shit awkward.

If a stage performance of any kind is treated as a one-way interaction, it suddenly becomes bland and just…the air gets thick. Can you imagine going to a stage play and nobody claps? No one applauds? No one laughs at jokes?

Ew.

But the opposite is just as bad. To disregard the performer and be on your phone, speak to those next to you, get up and leave on your own time, or worst of all, interject yourself into the performance by heckling or answering rhetorical questions – God! (Sorry, getting heated – cooling jets in 3…2…1…)

The point is this: I think the same instinct or lack of restraint that leads to one behaving like the above-mentioned (completely hypothetical) butt-hole (even though we’ve all been witness to at least one) comes from the same place as approaching a bathroom and just trying the handle.

I don’t know. I might be off-base here, but to me trying the handle without knocking (whether it’s locked or not) is an extension of the thought: “The bathroom is locked,” rather than, “Ah, someone else is in there,” and there’s difference, albeit a fine one.

I think it comes from a lack of basic consideration (just objectively, not lecturing you – I’m not your mom) and is from a thought that focuses on “me and my needs” rather than one’s place amid others. From there, it’s a short jump to calling it a matter of empathy.

People like to think of themselves as good listeners, right? But that doesn’t mean just being quiet while the other person talks and/or occasionally nodding and going “Mmhm.” Just like being considerate of an actor on stage, it’s a matter of being receptive and then empathetic to who you’re listening to.

Final point and then I’ll let you go (Jesus, what am I doing? You can leave at any time, this is an in-person conversation where I can hold you hostage).

I don’t think I’m the only one on here who’s heard of Jocko Willink, but I discovered a trick while listening to an old clip of his. It kind of follows the same criticism of, “There’s no such thing as true altruism, because the good thing is being done to satisfy one’s own desire to be good; not for good’s own sake,” but what I did was this: As he spoke each word, I echoed it in my head as though I was the one saying it. But I found that by doing this, I could put myself in the place of the speaker waaaaaay more and could kind of feel where the advice was coming from. Sure, it sounds goofy and kind of like, “Well, I suddenly like what he’s saying a lot more if I’m the one saying it,” but for real, give it a try.

All of this even applies when critiquing someone else’s work of art, statement, film, book, what have you. Much like we saw with the season finale of Game of Thrones (Christ, don’t get me started), before you go on crying, “They got lazy!” or “So-and-So totally lost touch with [their own] characters,” maybe put yourself in the place of the creator; and though you might have done it differently, it goes a million miles to accept the thought process at work.

To wrap up, be it as an audience member at a performance, listening to a friend vent about something or other, or even knocking on an occupied bathroom’s door, they all come from a central skill set that I think we can all agree sort of seems to suffer at large.

So…just…be a good audience member (in life).

S’all for now. Rant’s over. Thanks for swinging by. Catch you Tuesday.

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