I thought it would be this grand, dramatic shift.
This year I would embrace my role in the arts as… Inhale: An Audience Member. Exhale.
Every August, the city of Edinburgh is taken over by performance. For three weeks, thousands of shows appear. Bars, cafes, basements, and everything else become venues. Artists flock from around the world.
I love it. I see an average of 30 shows each year. People ask me: ‘Are you in the fringe?’. Last year, I would sigh and confess: ‘I’m just an audience member. I’m trying to find my role in the arts.’ I’m a retired theatre critic, a classically trained vocalist, a former aspiring actor or producer or something. I have a master’s degree in Theatre and Performance Studies. I was desperate to do something Official, to be involved.
I was humbled by the realisation that being an audience member is being involved. It’s actually a critical role.
So this year, I let go of expectation to be anything, and tried my hand at enjoying the show. It felt like a big deal. Turns out, no one cared.
‘Are you in the fringe?’ ‘Yes. I’m an audience member.’ ‘Oh cool!’ The end. It was all my own ego. It wasn’t a loaded question after all; people were just making small talk. The only one judging me was me.
I came to Edinburgh to learn how to advocate the arts. I never thought I’d do this from the audience.
In Scotland, the performing arts feel more embedded in community than anywhere I’ve been. Growing up in the US, ‘theatre kid’ was part of my identity, and going to the theatre seemed to be reserved for wealthy older generations and young nerds like me. In Edinburgh, the arts touch everyone, whether they like it or not.
Theatregoers are not always theatre makers. My role in reading books is Reader, so why is being an Audience Member any different? Of course it’s lovely for artists in neighbouring productions to shuffle through each others’ audiences, but they shouldn’t be the entire audience. Besides, I don’t have to create theatre to create.
I luxuriate in seeing something and letting it sink in. Perhaps it’ll trickle into my writing one day, but there’s no urgency to evaluate and articulate.
To be the heroines of our own lives, we must sit in the audience sometimes.
Are you being the heroine or the sidekick? Flippant slogans may pressure you to choose, but a good heroine is both. I can be the heroine of my life and the supporting role in another’s. Many others’ – that’s what it is to be a good friend, family member, person.
A better question: Are you being the heroine and the sidekick? An audience is a collection of leading characters. In an audience you are an anonymous head in the dark, but still an important one. Do not mistake silence for passiveness. Do not mistake noise for authority.
It’s not as simple as speaking up, or singing out, Louise! All of us need to be quiet sometimes. We need to receive. We need to be still. A heroine shouldn’t force her world to fit her needs alone. Jane Austen’s heroines get in trouble when they do this – look at Emma Woodhouse, or Catherine Moreland. Look at Elinor and Marianne, blazing their own ways through hidden woes. The turning point for the Sense & Sensibility sisters is when they share their lonely struggles, and become supporting characters in each other’s journeys.
In the audience, I listen, I spectate, but I also expand my perspective.
I can’t help but place myself in the story; I’m an American, a Leo, a human being. Even if I can’t relate, that feeling of unfamiliarity becomes part of my journey too.
The fringe has just ended, and it was my best one yet. I feel so full and so free. I am still processing, without deadline, letting the shows bleed into themselves, and into my life.
I will keep watching from the audience. I will participate with my presence and my applause. When you perform and I am the audience member, we both grow. When I write and you are the reader, we both grow too.
Until the next chapter,
P.S. I would love to hear your response. Please continue this audience talkback on Twitter, Instagram, or Email.