The Audience


Wilson and Goldfarb. Theatre: The Lively Art, 7th edition: Chapter 3

Audiences | Critics

1. What is a performance?

Anytime a show is presented before an audience. An audience is anyone watching the show who is not directly involved in the production.

     How does it differ from a rehearsal?

There is no audience (except for the director) for a rehearsal.

     Why is this distinction between rehearsal and performance important?

Because legally the playwright should receive a royality payment anytime there is a performance. He receives no royality payment for a rehearsal. Since the royality payment can be $ 100 to $ 300 (per performance) it becomes obvious that we must keep people from "just stopping by..."

2. How does the audience participate in a performance?

By reacting (laughing, for example) to the actor's performance.

3. How does the audience participation effect the performance of a play?

The actors will react to the audience's reaction, creating a circular response. If it's a "good house" (meaning a responsive audience) the performance will build and the audience's response will get stronger. Obviously if it's a "poor house" (an un-responsive audience) both the quality of the performance and the audience's reaction will slide down hill. Every audience is different, so every performance is different. A professional actor, who performs eight times a week, will usually admit that the best audience is on the week-end (especially after they have had a "little bit of liquid refreshment") and the least responsive (and typically oldest) audience is at the Wednesday matinee.

4. Why does Wilson and Goldfarb not include films and television in their definition of theatre?

Because in a film or television performance, the actor can not respond to the audience's reactions. The actor's performance is "locked," and will not (and can not) be changed.

5. What is aesthetic distance?

The mental force which reminds the audience that they are in a theatre, and what is happening on stage is not real.


The mental force which tells the audience that these characters on stage are "real people" with real problems, and they should be concerned with these people's problems.

6. What is the difference between illusion, delusion, and reality, as it pertains to a live theatre production?

Illusion: The audience knows what is happening on stage is not real, but will accept it as real for the two hours of the show.

Delusion: The audience believes what is happening on stage is real, but they are innocent bystanders, and are not involved in the action.

Reality: The audience not only believes what is happening on stage is real, but believe that it is happening to them

7. Which is the standard audience reaction of an adult audience?


     Of a children's audience?


8. What is the difference between a reviewer and a critic?

A reviewer describes a production and gives his opinion on how well it was done. He writes for a general audience.

Since you are to write a review of a "live theatrical event" (a play or musical), I thought I would add a few suggestions for your paper.

  1. Did you enjoy the show? Would you recommend it to a friend?
  2. Was the play appropriate for both the actors and the audience?
  3. What was the playwright trying to say? Was it well said? Was it worth saying?
  4. Which character did you find most memorable? Why?
  5. What was the most "enjoyable" moment in the show? Why?
  6. Did the technical elements of production, the scenery, the lights and the costumes help you enjoy or better understand the show?

The drama critic, on the other hand, analyzes the play in greater detail and writes for an audience of theatre people: directors, designers, and actors. It is assumed that a critic has a solid knowledge of theatre history, dramatic literature, and theatrical production. A reviewer can be anyone with an opinion. Reviews are typically published in a newspaper or magazine and broadcast on the 11 O'clock News; criticism appears in academic and theatrical journals.

9. What are the three criteria for theatrical criticism?

Nineteenth century German playwright, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) established the three criteria of theatrical criticism...
  1. What is the playwright attempting to do?
  2. Was it well done? Did he do it?
  3. Was it worth doing?

10. What is the difference between descriptive and prescriptive criticism?

A descriptive critic, such as the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE), describes what is happening on stage. A prescriptive critic, such as Roman playwright Horace (65-8 BCE), not only describes the performance, but suggests what the playwright and actors should have done. "Since the time of Aristotle and Horace, critics have tended to fall into one category or the other: either analyzing and describing, or setting down rules." (Wilson and Goldfarb, page 49).

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Last updated: Sept 1, 2011
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