Chapter 11

The cybernetics of acting: audience and critic

The cybernetical system which theatre sets up between playwright, director and actor is completed by the audience-the drama's patrons whom, as Johnson told us in The Vanity of Human Wishes, the actors must not only 'live to please' but 'please to live'. However interesting as a craft and fascinating as an ego experience, acting is finally done for an audience-the great Them', who for most actors are both enemy to be subdued and lover to be seduced; the impersonal personality that completes the performance; the many-headed Hydra that has to be made to listen and look in the actor's direction as if it were one. Joan Littlewood said there are no good or bad audiences, only good or bad performances. This may or may not be true, and many actors would disagree, but what is certainly true is that there are different audiences; and different audiences both evoke and require different responses from the actor.

At the simplest level, the audience on a wet Wednesday in Wigan is likely to be damper than on a sunny Saturday somewhere else. On a more political level, a young college audience with a pro-feminist sensibility is likely to be less amused by The Taming of the Shrew than is a Masonic lodge. (Neither is likely fully to appreciate Shakespeare's play!) Matinées particularly are days of dread for the actor-not just because of two performances on the same day, but because of the anticipated audiences. At one extreme, there are pensioners for whom the actors' main task is to keep them awake, and on the other hand school matinées when the actors often wish the audience could be put to sleep. The actor and writer Simon Brett, in his What Bloody Man is That?1 is instructive on these latter. A group of provincial repertory actors, per-

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