Audience Participation?

[Wordpress is pretty strict about what you can and can’t embed here, so I can’t embed into this post the music I want you to listen to while reading it. So open this link in another window and use your imagination.]

So last night Margo, a friend, and I saw Béla Fleck perform at Orlando’s Plaza Theatre with some “Amazing African Musicians” (according to the press for the show), including  Bassekou Kouyate and Anania Ngoglia.

It was one of those shows that are hard to forget, with a stellar mix of mellowness (two songs with just guitar, thumb piano, and two harmonized vocals), rambunctiousness (four different n’gonis plus two percussionists plus a crazy banjo player), and jaw-dropping-ness (Béla playing an entire solo song without fretting any of the strings, only changing the notes by constantly retuning the banjo).

But I’m mentioning this here because of some interesting excitement at the end of the show. A gentleman in the audience, who seemed to have one more substance in him than a gentle man ought, got up toward the end of the show and started dancing in front of the stage. In a lot of contexts, that wouldn’t have been odd at all, and there was definitely something friendly and nice about his exuberance. But two problems:

  1. He was clearly up there not just to enjoy the band, but to grab attention. I was clued in to this by his repeated turning to the audience and pumping his fists in the air, with a, “Yeah! How about some applause for me?!” kind of gesture.
  2. The Plaza is a “pay for your specific seat” venue, which means that for every person who stands up in front of the stage, there’s a person or two in the first couple rows who paid $40 for the front rows and can now not see.

So when others caught the excitement and started slowly streaming to the front, I was torn. On one hand, it was a fervent, intuitively felt, bold decision to dance to music that practically demands dancing. But on the other hand, in that context dancing felt inherently rude to others.

So–and tell me if this is a stretch–it’s making me think about audience participation in other areas. Not like there’s a one-to-one correlation between rushing the stage and, say, making a fanvid, but perhaps as an illustrative example? A “let me tell you a story, and let’s use that story as an inroads to the unmediated beauty and rambunctious rudeness that can come from interactive participation” kind of thing. No?

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