Becoming One with the Audience makes performance a two-way experience

Are you listening? When is the last time you listened to someone, without thinking any thoughts about, for, or against, what was being told to you? When is the last time you listened to someone without starting to frame your reply in your mind? When is the last time you listened to someone without forming a bias? Even as you are reading these words, almost all readers, are trying to do one of the things that have been mentioned here. And that is the problem of a severe epidemic of individualisation that has struck us today.

Can someone create something without any thought at all about the person for whom that thing is being created? Can a singer sing something without thinking of the listeners? This question can be asked about almost any creator, creative or otherwise. Remember the time when you struggled to use a product, which became so user-unfriendly because of a bad and botched-up product design? A pen that constantly slips your grip, a drilling machine that continuously shakes out of control, and a driver’s seat that is too close to the steering wheel, are all signs of the creator failing to listen to or become one with the audience.

Swami Vivekananda famously said that we need to concentrate on the whys of life rather than bother about the hows. And that is what we would do here too. We would try to find why is it that one fails to connect with the audience, or become the audience. Great film makers have always wanted to completely identify themselves with the audience, because they knew that was the only way to produce great and memorable films. In film or theatre, it is a big challenge to overgrow acting and directing, and watching one’s own creation from a distance, as an observer, as an audience. This process involves shedding the ego and identification as the creator.

To understand why this identification comes in the first place, we have to understand how speech was used by the primitive human being. For the human being or for most living beings, which can generate some sound, sound has been a major dominance mechanism. For instance, a bird that hops from one tree-top to the other and chirps at its maximum sound is not trying to convey any fabulous idea, but is just establishing its dominance in the area.

Fear of death and the fear of killing were eventually replaced by the human beings by the fear of dominance by being shouted out. Even today, there are many tribes, which make deafening noise before any conflict, just to frighten the other group. Gradually, mere sound or volume was replaced by the content of speech for acquiring dominance.

So, intelligent speech with much rhetoric and citing of evidence to support one’s standpoint is what has become the modern means of achieving dominance. So, when you are framing your reply even while you are listening to someone, you are actually yielding to a defence mechanism that has been built in you, and that you have inherited from your millennia-old ancestors. This is a vestigial remnant of evolution. We have to overcome it by understanding that there are no more the same kind of opponents as in our primitive times. Most of the time, there are no opponents.

It is necessary to become one with the audience also because that improves one’s performance. Else, lost in one’s pride, a person loses all sense of performance, speaking or otherwise. Often times, one has to just listen to one’s own words to understand the absurdity of one’s speech. And yet, it is surprising how many people do not bother about what they are speaking! That is why we should strive to become one with the audience.

The problem of getting dissociated from the audience comes primarily because we posit an ‘other’ and keep it always separate from us. If we proceed from an understanding and conviction of the oneness of all universe, then we would not feel that we are separate from the audience and so, our performance would be the most suited to the audience, in essence, ourselves. This subjectification of the all apparent objectivity is necessary to bring the much needed sanity in our lives.

Much of losing oneself in pride trying to win a performance by impressing the audience, also in an argument, is due to a hardwired brain activity. When one is deep into an argument, one is naturally stressed, and in times of stress, the more evolved parts of the brain shut down and the primitive brain or the amygdala takes over and starts operating. Unfortunately, this primitive brain does not understand anything other than winning or losing, and so one tries to win the situation by concentrating only on the other, to the extent of even forgetting how the performance or response is being delivered. This proves to be counterproductive most of the time and the audience is anything but pleased.

Becoming one with the audience is the best way to ensure that we are performing well and that we have the attention of our audience. All performance is a two-way experience. It should become a transformation. Life should change, our world view affected, and our ideas influenced every time we have a conversation. That is why it is called a ‘conversation’. It requires an interaction. Same is the case with every performance. A person watching a movie or a drama should get influenced, if that person has watched the performance properly that is. Thus, performance becomes an event that is witnessed in the same manner by both the performer and the audience. There is no more the duality of the seer and the seen. The seer and the seen are merged into one seer, who is seeing the performance as an un-biased entity.

And thus, the performance itself turns into a tremendous transformative power. This drastic change in the conventional manner in which performance is perceived is called metacommunicative performative competence in critical discourses on performance and performativity. So, all values of philosophy, religion, culture, language, and other such departments of the human sciences have no longer to be understood as discrete units of concepts, texts, or signs, but could be seen as different kinds of performance.

This universe and our performance on this world theatre, to paraphrase Shakespeare, ought to produce a strong impression on us and we ought to be impelled to strive to be free from suffering that this universe gives us. It is only our ignorance that befools us into thinking that it is only a one-way transaction and makes us get stuck in the incessantly moving wheel of transmigration, making us take repeated births and deaths.


About Author: Swamiji is the Editor of Prabuddha Bharata.

This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of the Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe online