SPY ACADEMY – A New Level of Audience Participation

SPY ACADEMY - A New Level of Audience Participation

Audience participation is a hallmark of Theatre for Young Audiences. True, it can sometimes be gratuitous. And true, most adults resist it with all their might, scrunching down in their seats, marveling at their children’s strong investment in the story, their willingness to shout, or sing along, or to pretend play in front of hundreds of strangers without the slightest inhibition! But audience participation, when integral to the plot, can be the starting point for a child’s genuine engagement in live theatre. Developmentally, Elementary School age children need to react kinesthetically and vocally in order to process the feelings that the story arouses in them. They need to choose sides, they want to cheer for the heroes and boo the bad guys as part of the communal audience effort to make sure that justice prevails. When children clap and squeal at the end of a great show, it’s not because they consciously recognize the skills of the performers or admire the set, light, and costume designs. It’s because the story satisfied them and they are pleased by the outcome.

As all of us mature, the visceral involvement that we have as children with the theatre-going experience becomes more cerebral.  Hopefully, we are as engaged as ever with the characters and plot, but now we are more capable of perceiving complexity and ethical dilemmas.  We appreciate how the production design and actors’ choices support the story while the busy activity in our minds as we watch the play replaces the need we once had for vocal and kinesthetic participation.

With the Lerner Family Theatre shut for almost a year, Imagination Stage has been on a quest to find new ways to connect with our young audience that can give them the stimulating early theatre-like experiences which will keep them coming back for more. Our latest venture SPY ACADEMY & The Lost Treasure of Atlantis takes audience participation to a new level. Using Zoom to beam into as many as 15 homes at a time, we are using the latest technologies to give children an interactive connection with professional actors like never before. Children actually cast themselves by choosing spy codenames. They have a set of specially designed props to use during the show. They are caught up in a drama that needs their skills to problem solve, analyze data, and make choices vital to the success of the mission. Because the audience is so small and the actors so large and present on your screen, the potential impact of this immersive theatre piece is sky high. I know our young audience will come away feeling personally acknowledged and greatly empowered. And I hope they clap and squeal at the end not only because justice prevails but because they so actively, so personally, made sure of it.

Janet Stanford
Producing Artistic Director

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