Audience

There’s a story about a mother who is nervous about asking her child about the results of the assignments for the school play. He tells her about the kids who got the various parts, the ones assigned to make sets and costumes, and posters, and worries that she’s going to have to console him that he wasn’t picked to do any of these tasks, designed to show off the talents of the students. He may not be capable of memorizing lines, or artistic, but he’s her beloved child, and she doesn’t want his heart broken. Gathering her courage, she asks him what his assignment was. With great pride he tells her “I get to be the Audience!”

This story always left me feeling that the teacher had managed to delude the poor kid in a typical desire to support each student’s self esteem, but over the years I’ve come to wonder if perhaps that child didn’t have an understanding greater than my own about the importance of having an appreciative audience.

Whether it’s performing drama, comedy, or a piece of music, or putting a good dinner on the table in a well kept house, or even turning in a lost wallet, even when you have worked hard to do your best, having someone to appreciate it is important. Even in sports or other competitions, when we are urged to compete against ourselves not our opponents, victory is sweeter when there is applause.

I read a book, Fat is a Feminist Issue, I think, in which there was an exercise to explore your feelings about food. One imagined collecting foods, storing them, leaving them, returning to them, each aspect of which refined your awareness of your relationship. Then one line caused me to burst into tears: “and it’s all for you, you don’t have to share any of it with anyone else.” Not share it? What’s it for then? This excellent exercise helped me see that for me, food was a method for connecting with other people.

Whether cheers from raucous sports fans, or the quiet “oohs” and “ahhs” of people appreciating a work of art, or the imagined communion with the reader of something you have written even (or especially) if you are long dead, this is the mark that you have made a connection with another human being. Without audience, even the most excellent performance lacks that critical element.

I know many artists, writers and craftsmen, and we all share the shared experience of people verbally admiring ones work, but not buying. We share stories of those who even go so far as to admit to planning to steal the idea but do it themselves or have it made by a friend who is willing to forgo payment. Admittedly, this falls into the dysfunction of modern society that defines all worth by assigning a price tag. Anything that one need not pay for is not valued, whether art or the comfort provided by a loving caretaker.

I fear that the original story of assigning roles for the school play is one of those where the adults exchanging it are laughing at the innocence (read “stupidity”) of children, and how easy it is to delude them. Many of the stories we tell them from Santa Claus to “where babies come from” fall into that category. But perhaps I was slow in getting the point, and the brilliance of the teacher and child who both understood something I did not- how very important a role the audience is.

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