Hi all! Madison here again. We are in Paper Session VII of the 2019 Blackfriars Conference, talking about audiences in the Blackfriars Playhouse.

Deb Streusand: Of Course We All Know What ‘Quondam’ Means: Performative Playgoing at the Blackfriars Conference

As Shakespearean scholars, we often come to Shakespeare plays to be seen as well as heard. The need to perform dictates our behavior as networkers, professionals, and audience members. We perform our knowledge as scholars when we are being audience members. We often laugh before the punchline before the joke is complete, but because we know how the joke ends and are showing how familiar we are with the text. We are demonstrating that we belong here. This behavior, however, is not exclusive to Shakespeare scholars. This leaves scholars with a responsibility to not distract actors and other audience members, make the text appear exclusive and inaccessible, or enforce their own prejudices on the show.

Richard Preiss: Infinite Numbers

Several early modern plays include unperformable stage directions. In Henry VI Part 2, Jack Cade enters with “Infinite Numbers.” Actors onstage can become synonymous for each other. Several characters enter only to die immediately. These characters can become interchangeable with each other as one pirate represents any common vagabond and one courtier can represent any corrupt politician. A play like Henry VI Part 2 is wrapped in disorder. Characters get mixed with each other, are named, unnamed, named and unseen, seen and unnamed. This is not meant to present an exclusive knowledge or an over-complicated plot, but a disordered world. Who counts and who does not? This play does not offer an answer to this question, but dares to ask it.

Elizabeth Tavares: “At the a poyntment of the company”: Meeting, Eating, and Collective Agency in Henslowe’s Diary

Henslowe’s Diary involved the work of several hands without naming everyone. Tavernes’ paper traces the collaborative behavior that went into running a theatre company. Certain people were invested with specific powers, but this was case by case for each need. Approximately 135 times, the word “company” is used to indicate that a collective decision was made. Many of these decisions were often held over meals. Wine and drink held an important place at the dinner table, and the dinner table was an important part of making decisions and doing business.

Casey Caldwell: Going Medieval on Direct Address: Money, Labor, and Performance in Mankind

This talk began with vice characters soliciting money and talking up the speaker before he came onstage. After Caldwell came onstage, he likened this soliciting of money and holding an audience to hostage to what the performance of some morality plays may have looked like. Several plays turned payment into a moment of direct address that audiences could not avoid. Shared lighting conditions meant that everyone could see everyone else and the exchange becomes much like a gift exchange. Actors gift the audience with their performance and audiences hopefully gift the actors with their attention. Specific audience contact moments that involved payment could correlate with what was happening onstage. The audience pays vice characters to conjure a devil that they hope to be entertained by. Actors worked to make this payment seem like a gift rather than a solicitation or an exchange of goods.

Lia Wallace: “Pause for a Reply”: A How-To Guide for Audience Activation

Direct eye contact signals an intent to communicate, calls an audience to attention, causes the body to react in such a way that heightens an audience member’s awareness of their own body, and turns a performance into a social exchange. These reasons make theatre in shared lighting venues, specifically the Blackfriars, distinctly different. The actor gives to the audience, however, the interaction is most powerful when the audience gives back to an actor. Both actor and audience feel what Ralph Cohen calls “the thrill of acknowledgement.” This can cause problems though because sometimes the audience is a terrible scene partner. Lia showed a clip of a show when an audience member gave an unexpected response to a question and the actor had to respond directly to what the patron had said. The actor confirmed the social contract between actor and audience by responding to the patron, and the entire audience was brought to attention and brought into community with each other.

Sid RayLaugh Lines: Generating Laughter and Audience Complicity in The Merry Wives of Windsor

Merry Wives of Windsor contains laugh cues which makes the audience complicit with the wives and their humiliation of Falstaff. Laughter begets laughter and actors are more able to form a bond with the audience when they are generous with their laughter. In 18th century France, paid laughers were hired to ensure that actor’s comedy didn’t fall flat, and today, laugh tracks are added after production or studio audiences are packed with people likely to find that brand of humor funny. In Merry Wives, actors laugh onstage to encourage the audience to laugh. This preps the audience for a bigger laugh when the punchline comes at the end of the scene. Comedy depends on audience laughter and the actor’s joy can help signal that.