In a new trend, music and theatre artistes are involving the audience in their performances, writes Ranjani Rajendra

How would you like to attend a performance that engaged the audience as well – be it a play or a music performance? A new crop of artistes are now aiming to do just that – engage their audience not just through a mesmerising performance but by giving them an opportunity to participate. And not just one or two lucky members of the audience, but the entire auditorium.

Take for instance, the recent performance by the Australian jazz band Coco’s Lunch. Not only was the audience introduced to a new genre of music, the all-women band also encouraged them to participate, sing along and even taught them the actions to go along with their finale performance. The enthusiastic audience was clearly more than happy to participate in their performance, with a few people even joining them on stage.

Similarly, during a gig last year in the city, Parvez Imam’s performance was hardly restricted to the stage. The musician engaged his audience in the interactive performance, with spot singing lessons. He even encouraged the audience to join him in his performance with the lyrics projected on a screen behind him and passed around tambourines for the audience to play along.

However, audience involvement is not just limited to music performances; theatre artistes too use audience reaction and participation to determine how the plot of a play moves forward. Says Aruna Ganesh Ram, artistic director of Visual Respiration, “Immersive or interactive theatre engages the audience, not just verbally but non-verbally as well. In our performances we ask the audience to participate actively so the story can progress.” The Chennai-based theatre group, which will be staging five performances of Re:Play at Alliance Française in the city this weekend, stages plays based on ancient Indian games like ‘parcheefi’ and ‘chaturanga’. The play revolves around gaming itself and is in a non-linear format, letting the dice govern the plot.

“We have the audience hold certain objects related to these games and based on how they play, our story progresses. For instance, at our recent performance we used hopscotch to further the story and involve the audience,” explains Aruna. City-based theatre groups also have been using interactive theatre for their workshops and stage performances, with fairly decent participation from their audiences. “We have had interactive performances in the past. It usually depends on the director’s interpretation of the script and how he/she wants to deal with it. The good thing about such performances is that you definitely have the audience’s attention throughout the play. However, with interactive theatre the challenge is to have it flow naturally. One cannot force them as gimmicks in the script. You need to be very clear about the kind of stage craft you want to apply,” says Anjali Parvati Koda, writer, Samahaara group.

While interactive performances are definitely very different from the regular ones, a lot depends on audience participation. “Interactive theatre is an interesting concept and it did work very well when a Mumbai group used it at our children’s theatre festivals,” says theatre person Vaishali Bisht, adding that she would love to use it in the future as well. “We regularly use the concept during our workshops but to use it on stage, I need to be sure of the kind of participation we will have. Sometimes people are just too conscious to participate in a performance that talks strongly about certain issues like say corruption. But if the concept is used in other not so controversial subjects they see better participation,” she says.