One’s a crowd, two’s an audience

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Over the years, theatre has always attracted a variety of audiences – there are types and types of playgoers, that frequent live stage performances – they fall into definite categories – I’m n0t counting the serious theatre goer, the person who buys his ticket, choosing wisely to watch drama on stage, over spectacle on celluloid, he appreciates everything that’s unfolding in front of him. No it’s not him/her I am referring to. I am listing some of my other favourite categories of audiences, here they are –

The ‘European Football League’ Better Halves
This guy doesn’t really want to be here – his ideal recreation would be sitting around the TV, watching football with the boys – munching popcorn, screaming for Liverpool over Manchester United – he has been dragged here, kicking and screaming, by his wife. She wants him to spend quality time with her, perhaps inculcate some culture in him. “I could have been home or at the club watching Liverpool, cheering for Mo Salah, instead I’m here trying to understand this hi-funda Shakespeare play”, he’s thinking to himself.

The ‘10 pm reservation at China Garden’ Foodies
For this group, khana-peena is combined with the theatre. It’s a full evening out –the economics and itinerary is based on entertainment + eatables = paisa vasool. And so even if we are at the three quarter stage of the play,  when the clock strikes 9.45pm, en masse like Cinderellas, the family rises and heads for the exit– the restaurant reservation at 10pm beckons, threateningly – at this point, Chicken Wantons get the nod over contemporary theatre, culture sacrificed at the altar of cuisine.

The Multi-tasking FOMO-ers
This group largely comprises of younger people, they sit in the packed auditorium, with a desperation to also be in ten other places – typically this multi- tasker wants to be at a disco, a dinner party, watching Dabbang 4, going for a drive, she/he has this FOMO (fear of missing out) – so through the entire length of the play they’re Whatsapping people outside the venue, ‘Whats up dude?” etc. etc.– the blue light of the phone screen lighting up their face as they furiously type – there is of course the sub-group, ‘THE PHONE CALL TAKER’, this guy sees no problem in keeping his mobile on, and answers when it rings, “Hello bro, no no I’m at the NCPA. Which venue? Don’t know…one of the three….how’s the play? It’s so so, actors have memorised solid lines ya, little intellectual for me ya…..blah blah blah”

The Cough-ers & Shakers
This character is like the Pied Piper of throat infections – he/she lets fly an early cough and sets off a chain reaction – anyone in the audience who has bronchitis, breathing issues, or is just plain bored picks up this cue and continues – it is the Mile Sur Tumhara of coughing – the question is how will this person’s co-watchers respond to him now, post CoVid? Pre-CoVid he/she was regarded with a polite sideways grimace. I’m now predicting him being asked to leave, or a mass exodus towards the Exit door of everyone else.

Mannequins wearing face masks are placed to provide social distancing in a theatre in Madrid, Spain.

The Front Bencher
This person occupies the front seats of the auditorium, to get the best view, to let everyone know that they’re up front, that he/she is a true aficionado and sitting in the first row will help him/her to appreciate the play better than anyone sitting further behind – he/she will be the first to give the standing ovation for the performance. He/she was the eager beaver when he/she was in college, nothing has changed. The feeling that sitting in the first row is like standing first in class! (To be noted, he/she will take his/her seat, an hour before the performance begins)

Obviously, once the lockdown ends, only time will tell what the #NewNormal has in store for us, in the theatre.
What will the theatre experience be like, with real dummies occupying the seats on either side of one!
Maybe, whole new categories of audiences will frequent the theatre!

-Rahul daCunha

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