The term actor audience relationship refers to the connection between performer and spectator during a live performance. But just how does an actor engage with the audience during a theatre performance and what factors affect the nature of this relationship?
Factors Affecting the Actor Audience Relationship
1. Theatre Style
The particular style of performance will often affect the actor-audience relationship, as certain styles ask for unique acting and staging conventions.
2. Epic Theatre Style
The epic theatre style of production, popularised by Bertolt Brecht in 1930s Germany, asks for a very different actor-audience relationship.
Non-realistic in style, epic theatre uses narrators, signs, projection of information and songs with messages, just to name a few typical conventions.
In epic theatre, the performer’s relationship with the audience is intended to be an intellectual affair with limited emotion.
The invisible fourth wall separating the stage space from the audience is normally broken many times in a single epic theatre production.
3. Proscenium Stage
Proscenium arch staging refers to the arch above the stage opening of many traditional theatre spaces.
Common to theatre buildings across the world, the proscenium arch allows for the audience to be positioned on just one side, hence those far away from the stage, or indeed in the balcony, have a very different relationship with the performers than those patrons seated in the front row of the stalls.
A soliloquy involves a character speaking inner thoughts aloud on stage, either without other characters present, or if so, not within earshot.
Although not asking the actor to directly address the audience, the use of a soliloquy enhances the relationship between performer and spectator because only the audience is privy to the spoken information.
5. Traverse Staging
Traverse staging is similar to the typical outlay of a fashion show with a rectangular acting space surrounded by an audience on both of the longer sides. It has technical challenges in terms of staging but allows for a relatively intimate actor-audience relationship.
However, the length of the rectangular stage can be problematic for spectators seated towards either end. While it is fun to be a part of a traverse production, this type of staging is uncommon in contemporary theatre.
6. Representational Acting
Representational acting ignores the presence of the audience and adheres to the convention of the invisible fourth wall existing between the acting and audience spaces.
Realistic and naturalistic dramas employ representational acting.
The nature of the actor-audience relationship is one of complete separation, both physically and otherwise.
7. The Aside
The aside is an effective acting convention allowing the audience to become more involved in the plot on stage.
While not as powerful as a direct address, the aside involves an actor communicating to the audience “on the side”, without the awareness of other characters.
The relationship between the actor and the audience is enhanced with the use of the aside. Information communicated across the fourth wall is usually a secret about upcoming plot action or the revelation of a character’s inner feelings. Now, the audience feels as if they know more about what is going to happen next than the other characters do!
8. Presentational Acting
Thrust staging consists of a three-sided performance space and was most popular in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. The famous Globe Theatre on the banks of the River Thames employed a thrust stage.
Presentational acting acknowledges the presence of the audience and seeks to break the invisible fourth wall between the actor and the audience.
Conventions that achieve this include direct address, song, asides, narration and even actors physically leaving the stage and entering the audience area during a performance.
The nature of the actor-audience relationship is more intimate and engaging than with representational acting.