Knowing the Audience

Late last week, Karen and I encountered one of those moments of classic Americana in which you’ve just finished cooking dinner, bypassed the dining room table and carried your plates directly to the sofa, and attempted to decide what to watch while you eat. The Hulu cue was empty, and the Netflix cue was only populated with feature-length movies, which was more than we were really looking for (this makes us sound so ridiculously…I don’t know, insert your adjective here…but roll with it for a second, because I’m actually leading up to something interesting).

In the interest of something at which to laugh and pass the time, we landed on an old sitcom that we both used to enjoy in our previous lives before we met, and had a blast commenting on it through a good part of the first season that evening. In the process, I heard something that I hadn’t heard for a while:

“…filmed in front of a live studio audience.”

I had a moment of reminiscing, because I remember hearing that phrase frequently when I was younger and used to watch sitcoms with my parents. I commented to Karen that I missed that time when programs were filmed in front of a live studio audience, but she commented that she was under the impression that they frequently were still. As though to confirm her point, I overheard the opening credits of another random sitcom that she watched this morning, to discover that it was also filmed in front of a live studio audience. I’m not overly interested in the particular sitcom she was watching, but I was very glad to discover that these sorts of programs still enjoy the truer level of performance that an audience in the same room brings.

Of course, I’m partial to theatre because that’s where my background lies. That said, though, wouldn’t you agree that there’s something more alive about a performance in front of a live audience than the performance you watch from the comfort of your living room, or even in a movie theatre? The reason for this extra dose of magic is that there’s a feedback loop that takes place in interpersonal communication. That is, the performer sends a message that is received by the audience, which then sends feedback (like applause), which then has an effect on the performers. That’s why no live performance is ever the same twice. Every time I’ve directed a play, each performance is different, because the audience laughs and applauds at different moments, which in turn inspires the actors in different places in the script, which causes them to perform their roles just a bit differently each time.

So, while I don’t do sitcoms that often, I think there’s just something more electric, more alive about the performances that occur in front of an audience. Of course, I enjoy a movie in a big theatre as much as anyone else, but I would much rather attend a play if given the option. Sort of like listening to the recording is different than seeing the band live.

Would you rather see the performance live? Or is the screen enough for you?

Photo Attribution: shehal under Creative Commons

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