The Ideal Audience Member
On Decorum, the Drawbacks of Intermission, and the Proper Use of Programs
Audiences are the most pernicious force in Seattle theater—they're too forgiving of pabulum, too quick to gush about mediocrity, too eager to leap to unwarranted standing ovations. In short, they're more concerned with what it means to be the kind of person who enjoys theater than they are with what the theater they're enjoying means. But there are exceptions. One evening, as I idly skimmed the seats nestled around a four-by-four-foot platform at Capitol Hill Arts Center's Ten Tiny Dances, I spied a most unusual being. It was the Ideal Audience Member.
The Ideal Audience Member is about yea big. He fits in a chair—not on a chair, but in it, his little legs folded up so that his knees don't even poke past the edges of the seat. He has dark, straight hair, and dark, pretty eyes. These features are set off adorably in his two primary modes of expression: absorption and delight. In the "absorbed" mode, the Ideal Audience Member looks intently at the performer, assessing every move in an engaged, dispassionate manner. In the "delighted" mode, the Ideal Audience Member looks like he's about to pee his little pants. No matter how long you've been attending theater, you have never seen an audience member beam with that kind of unbridled pleasure. (Please bear in mind, the Ideal Audience Member was beaming at a modern-dance performance: the kind of thing that makes your average theatergoer adopt a look of mild constipation.)
Being watched by the Ideal Audience Member is akin to being surveyed by God. There is a presumption of good, a hopethat your contribution to the arts will be generous, witty (the Ideal Audience Member has an infectious giggle), and worthwhile. But there is also a darker side—the specter of judgment. The Ideal Audience Member isn't especially showy about his displeasure. When he is bored by what's happening onstage, he doesn't fidget, or whine, or sigh audibly. He is 6 years old (oh, yes—did I forget to mention that?), and when he's bored, he reads the program.
Truly, we are dealing with a unique species here. But fortunately, he isn't so aloof that he won't favor us with his wisdom.
The Stranger: When is it okay to talk at a dance performance?
IAM: During intermission is the best time to talk.
What does one say to such succinct genius? Quietly passing judgment during intermission is vastly preferable to yapping at the close of the evening, when performers mill about like plainclothes spies. At this time, the Two-Block Rule—don't discuss the show until you're two blocks from the theater—goes into effect.
What do you enjoy about dance?
I love staying up until 10:00. When I get home, my brothers are already asleep.
Is that the best part? Staying up?
What honesty! People go to performance for all sorts of suspect reasons. The Ideal Audience Member is one of the refreshing few who own up to ulterior motives.
When is dance boring?
What unalloyed devotion to the form! The only time the Ideal Audience Member gets bored is during intermission—when there's no dancing! He also has astonishing recall—he cites with approval a performance from several months ago when a man poured sugar down his pants ("Do you like it when dance is funny?" "Yes"), he readily quotes the best moves from dances long since past (the more swagger, the better). He can correctly identify the best choreographer in an evening, and when necessary, he can also steer the conversation to safe, mutually agreeable topics like model-airplane propellers. Who taught him how to behave at performances? The Ideal Audience Member, whose name is Serei, points at his mother, new Velocity Dance Center executive director Kara O'Toole.