Friday, September 12, 2008

The Co-Conspiratorial Audience

I have a confession to make. I am truly, truly sorry but I still have a friend who communicates not by email (sob). He still communicates by letter! I hesitate to reveal his name but I suspect no real harm will come to him so I will, it's, it's - Dennis Murphy.

The other retro habit Dennis has is he stays with people on his puppeteering tours. One of the discussion we had last time he stayed was about his researching into humour and audiences and he promised to send me some of his results. Turns out that was what the letter was. He got the address wrong however and, first of all it went off to 84 Stephens Road, which if it exists at all is the boys' school up the road. Well they returned it to Dennis and Dennis reposted it and we finally got our letter.

One of Dennis's collection of quotes about audiences reminded me of some performer/audience magic that happened this week. The quote is one from Dario Fo, the Italian Nobel Prize winning storyteller, actor, director and exponent of the traditional Italian theatre Commedia Dell'arte. He once said, according to Murphy,

'The public is my co-conspirator. My texts have been shaped and changed by their reactions.'

I have to totally agree with both Dennis and Dario and the little story adventure that I and my audience at the Inala Community Kindy embarked on the other day is a wonderful example. You see, a couple of years back I decided I absolutely had to have a story that celebrated Aussie men in all of their generosity and thoughtfulness so I created a story about 'Grandpa Chris who catches fish to share with all his friends.' I achieved the bit about how retired men make wonderful little contributions to social capital and generally speaking my older audiences really like the idea. My younger audiences get into it and more or less enjoy it but I've always been aware that if most of them had their way they would 'juice it up a bit' with either some adventure or some silliness.

So everytime I dust off Granpa Chris and bring him out for my audiences, I am aware of this tension. Now back to the kindy, this time as Grandpa Chris is out in his tinny singing his song and reeling in another fish, I sense that the audiences need for something crazy has almost reached cicada shrillness - they want Granpa Chris to catch a huge shark. So he does. He gets it back to shore and now what does he do. He puts it on his bicycle and, one of the girls, who obviously had been following this development with interest and in detail, said, "Granpa Chris sat on top of the shark on the bicycle!" Well that's exactly what he had to do and off he went to Grandpa Ted's place riding along on top of the shark.

This upset my 'nice' story quite a bit and gave me quite a bit of improvising work to do to get to a reasonable resolution and still leave the 'warm glow Granpas are all right' feeling. We managed it of course, audiences are very helpful like that. One of the girls, might have been the same one, helped tie up a loose end. She asked, "and what about the sharks head?" I had Grandpa Chris give it to the cat but, really I suppose, she would have been happier if the shark ate the cat.

So telling 'Grandpa Chris' will never be the same. I've conspired with my audience and the text has been reshaped.

No comments: