Betrayed by the Audience

the relationship between the performer and his/her audience

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Location: Taipei, Taiwan

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Betrayed by the Audience

by Rolf-Peter Wille

Playing the piano onstage in Taiwan I sometimes feel like a bar pianist. I am playing and the customers are drinking. Sometimes I feel like an animal in the zoo. Somebody is watching me but these "somebodies" are outside my cage. There is no audience. Just a bunch of spectators. I am a prostitute onstage. The customers have paid, I go through the movements, and no love is involved.

A true performance is a rhetorical ceremony in which not one but two performing entities are involved. The audience, in fact, is the performer offstage and it projects expectation, concentration, love. A piece of music is a rhetorical ceremony in sound. Its structure is a conversation between themes, between questions and answers, statements and cadences. A tree grows in a forest and a rhetorical art will prosper in a rhetorical environment. The applause of the audience is the cadence to the musical statement of the performer onstage. It is also the handshake after a conversation. The expecting silence of the audience is the black velvet into which the musician will lovingly embed his sound pearls. Withdraw the love of the audience and our music will be like a tree in a desert. It will die.

The performance is a ritualized ceremony, a structured relationship between performer and audience. A ritual distance is created between these two entities which the performance will try to bridge. The distance will create a challenge to the projecting power of the performer. The clash between the concentration of the audience and the power of the performer will create a high voltage of electricity which is the prerequisite for an exciting performance. It is the electricity between two lovers during their first night together. When I heard Horowitz in New York, the expectation of the audience before the performance created an almost unbearable "voltage," matched by the "electricity" of the pianist. A performance starts, not when the musician begins to play, but when he enters the stage. The expectation of the audience creates an arch of suspense which stretches from the first contact to the first note and in fact throughout the entire performance until the performer has left the stage.

An audience that does not applaud has betrayed the performance.


related essays:

The Dignity of the Performer
Magic Circle of the Stage

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