I've been on panels and in talks within the land of theatre to talk about active audiences, interactivity or participation. All these words aim to describe an audience within work that is responsive to them and gives them a role to play within the story. Often these panels draw an artificial battle line between my work and more traditional theatre. The 'traditional' director often starts of by arguing that their audience is by no means passive. I fully agree. Great theatre brings you not only to the front of your seat in excitement during the play but also afterwards in the pub.
The pub conversation is where you test your initial responses and reflections. The tube home should give you time to contextualise your responses in the myriad of your friends. Maybe thoughts, images provoked by the play come back over the next few days, even months or completely unexpectedly after a few years when contemplating something else. Great theatre or film does that. It makes you an active spectator, fully mentally engaged, reflecting over a long period of time.
When we transform spectators into active audience-participants we are not somehow opposing spectatorship. I also don't think that mere physical active engagement necessarily corresponds to emancipation. An active audience engage differently with the piece at hand. Work which casts the audience in a leading role allows them to actively make choices, consciously and subconsciously, and see the consequences of their actions played out. In their response to the audience co-authors the narrative and their experience. Sometimes making use of the piece in ways that we as authors might never have dreamed possible.
This co-authorship and and the ever-changing and evolving nature of the work is what is so exciting to me. Active audience-participants take real ownership of the work and often deeply invest both in the narrative and the themes. They bring their own personalities, cultural references, dreams, memories and ideas to the piece and engage with the content on a very personal basis. The actions of the audience in response to the piece, the ideas an themes are the basis of the reflection during and in the pub afterwards. Both for them and for me.