Posts Tagged ‘group behavior’


December 21, 2014


The Audience is a Mob

One of my favorite Sammy Glickisms is, “Talent can get you just so far,” he said.  “Then you got to start using your head.”

One of the things I seem to have to keep learning, and re-learning, throughout my life, is that people take themselves seriously.  This isn’t easy, and isn’t easy especially for a writer to do.  No matter what is said about a character inhabiting a writer’s head and taking over control of their pen – we all know who is calling the shots.  Writers may play about with psychosis, but in the end, it’s still their psychosis.   (This might be one reason I’m often amused by the claim that reading fiction broadens one’s horizons.  Fiction, or any work of art for that matter, is probably the most totalitarian thing out there, with perhaps the most limited view of life available – currently in print.)  Writers do with characters as they please.  They do not need to take their characters ‘seriously’.   That is, the characters have no power over them.


On the show, “I Love Lucy”, (which is problematic, by the way), Ethel and Fred and Lucy and Ricky all have their flare-ups, their fights and wars.  But, in the end, another portion of their nature appears, goes to work, and resolves the situation amicably.  This is what can happen when people don’t take themselves too seriously – another portion of their personality can go to work.   In real life however, real people take themselves real seriously.  One clash with your real neighbor, and that could be the end of things.  Two clashes, and it’s probably a cold war.  Three, and “we will see you in court”.


Why do I say all this?

Well, it’s because that as a writer, and especially as a playwright, who with maturation has the opportunity to experience an audience and mull their reactions – you begin to see that you are strung between two poles.  On the one hand is the situation of you as the talent and as the creator, whose delight is to take characters and run them through their paces, place them in situations, raise the stakes, swing for the fences!  No subject is out of bounds.  No outcome is beyond the pale.  No emotion is suppressed.   No remark need go unmade.  All is made up and needn’t be taken seriously.  But what if this did happen?  That is always the question posed.

On the other hand, there is the audience who are very real, and whom each and every one take quite seriously.  You not only have to capture their interest…  that is, change their focus from their own very serious concerns to immersing themselves in your own conceit.  This is damn hard in and of itself.   But you also must be very careful not to press any of their buttons, that is, to challenge their personal ideology – or they will close you out.  You will lose their participation.

Well, Whitman noted “I contain multitudes”.  And Lincoln remarked, “you cannot please all of the people, all of the time”.  So if everyone is a crowd, and you can’t please everyone- where does this leave the poor playwright?

The trick is it seems, is to find something a sizeable crowd either hates or loves to the exception of whatever else transpires, and trumpet that boldly and with a sense of urgency.  It could be that, “Racism is a profound evil.”, or “Poor people deserve respect.” or, “Don’t be a prude.” or any number of the current shibboleths that hold sway over the makeup of the current theater audience.   In other words, you must use every trick and caboodle at your disposal for turning the theater audience into a mob; a nice mob – you don’t want them trashing the place for goodness sakes – but a mob, nevertheless.


I experienced an excellent demonstration of this.  At the party following a production of my own, a good friend of mine, using the actors cast, put on a roast of a scene in the play, “Saving Harry”.  He took the scene, which involved salesmen at a large metropolitan dealership, and transposed it to hicks in the rural South.  I loved that scene.  It was a favorite of mine.  And I think the audience enjoyed it also.  But their reaction was fairly muted, throughout the production.

Transposed, the same scene was hilarious.  It got a huge reaction!  And I added a lot of the laughter myself.  I enjoyed it very much.  But what it did was to change the audience from individuals who could think and consider – into a broadside against rural hicks, creating a roaring, rolling mob of ridicule.  And I roared myself.  There’s no getting around it.  But it stands in my life as a very firm lesson.  The audience is a mob.

Why do I take the time to remark on all this?  It’s all just theater, right?

Well, as Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage…”

Photos from Google Images

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