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Visual Culture: The Studio Audience

September 15, 2010

Having a group of people in attendance to an event being filmed on a stage gives an air of authenticity; it makes the performance seem more “live” and adds depth to the show.  Watching the show at home on TV, the viewer is able to imagine themselves as part of the audience the camera catches in frame or pans over in an introduction.  In fact, the audience is not so much a group of people in attendance for the show but a carefully composed facet of the show.

Last summer, I got to be a part of a carefully composed audience.  An email went out through a campus network and the word was out for free tickets to a comedy show.  I stood in a dank alley for two hours with friends, because we’re poor and a live theater show is usually out of my grasp financially.  We were advised to wear black, gray or dark clothing and avoid patterned fabrics in the email.  Since broke college students have more time than money, the recorded event looked like a sold out live show had filled the large theater.  In reality, we were like “Yay! Free comedy show!”  And they hyped us up on free candy bars out in the alley.  Yay, sugar rush.

People acting as ushers filled in the main floor arranged people to their taste.  These people had some kind of ticket or notice.  Most times, these “audience members” are from acting agencies and get a fee as an extra; sometimes they are models.  This event is something they can slap on their resume and get a few dollars for.  They were better to good looking with a median age of 25; there was little variation from that range.  I stood in line for two hours, and the line of interested potential attendees was whiter than a polar bear in a snowstorm.  The people on the main floor and in the front rows were far more ethnically diverse.  They were well dressed and wearing garments in a wide range of style and color, unlike us “back drop” attendees.

The comedy show stunk.  I didn’t laugh out loud, really, some parts were kind of interesting, but overall it was so bad I was glad it was free.  There were a lot of dumb dick-and-masturbation jokes.  The main floor and front row attendees laughed and clapped a lot.  {Good job, actors!}  The film crew did about six takes on the “final curtain” applause, urging us to a better level of cheering and thunderous applause with each take.  Finally, they were satisfied.  Then we could go home.  My group discussed how much the show stunk on the train ride home.

When you watch something with an audience in attendance, be aware that they are rarely a collection of people from the public, brought together by an interest, arriving at random.  The studio or theater audience is probably not even representative of the average viewer for the show.  Audiences are supposed to lend authenticity to the show being recorded, they lend credibility to the show being good, likable or enjoyable; thus most audiences are highly contrived.

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