Monday, June 25, 2012

Tell me a story

Have you ever gone to a show where you scrunch down in your seat when the person onstage asks for a volunteer from the audience?
Have you ever felt resentful at a concert where the musician, instead of inspiring people to clap or dance by playing with energy and enthusiasm, tries to force the audience into participation by nagging them ("Come on now, everyone, come on!")?
Do you shun participatory theater where "the audience is part of the show?"

These aren't rhetorical questions. I really want to know if I'm the only one who feels this way.

I enjoy giving talks and being on panels and doing other things onstage, when I'm a featured speaker. But when I'm part of an audience, especially if I've paid to be part of an audience, I want to be entertained. I love clapping or dancing when I'm genuinely moved; I'll ask a question if there's something I really want to know. But generally, I prefer not to be forced into the spotlight when I'm expecting to sit with the house lights turned down.

I bring this up because people talk more and more now about interactive media in the book world; for example, this post on Nathan Bransford's blog about whether black-and-white text will come to seem old-school. I remember seeing or hearing a report once (on TV? Radio?) about how interactive TV hasn't progressed as quickly as people thought it would, because the audience seems to enjoy a passive viewing experience. They don't necessarily want to come up with the lines, direct the show, figure out the ending; they want to sit back and enjoy a good story. And while pictures, music, hyperlinks, and video clips may end up enhancing e-books, I wonder how far we will really go with interactivity. Even our current audience participation at live events tends to be very formal: the audience comments at Kabuki theater conform to certain rules; musical groups in the US prepare to do one encore and audiences clap long enough to get them to do it, but quickly abandon the applause afterward because they know one encore is it. Audiences have rituals at sporting events and parades. And having marched on Washington, I can tell you that even our protests follow rules and rituals!

We had the option for interactivity back in the days when storytelling was entirely oral, and now I'd like to be a fly on the wall and see how much the audiences shouted out suggestions to the storyteller or changed the direction of the story. I imagine that it happened, but was it spontaneous or did it quickly become predictable, ritualized? As anyone who has read to a child knows, part of the fun the child has in rehearing a story is in knowing how it's going to turn out. Knowing what's supposed to happen next because it always happens that way. And so I wonder: How much do people want to control and change stories, and how much do they like passivity and familiarity?

6 comments:

  1. Audience participation makes my skin crawl, but my brother gets the awkward, uncontrollable giggles.

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  2. I'm right there with you. I HATE audience participation. I hate clapping along. I hate having to form discussion groups and participate in class. I like to sit there and absorb. I like to do nothing. I'm lazy that way :P

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    1. Sometimes, you just want to be a listener/watcher.

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  3. I used to LOVE those choose-your-own-adventure books when I was a kid, but that's about as far as it went. I hate being interactive in the audience, and I usually never raise my hand in classes. I like to sit back and learn. If it's something hands-on, that's different. I suppose reading could be hands-on. My hubby loves to play games on his Playstation - the ones where they are really interactive, but that's different. I think with books, there will always be the majority who just want to be entertained.

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    1. I've heard video games have many more options now, but the earlier ones were very limited. Also, interestingly, I used to watch a young person I know play video games, and he would often have his character go through the same places and do the same things over and over. I'm not sure if that was just his preference, or if it's common for people to like that familiarity.

      Another person I know likes the games where you build your own civilization. Which always reminds me of being a writer!

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