I had a huge “wish I coulda been there” moment yesterday when I heard someone talk about a recent Indianapolis Symphony performance of The Rite of Spring. Actors were hired to sit in the audience and cause mayhem partway through in an attempt to recreate the riot at The Rite’s 1913 premiere. While such shenanigans are ultimately extra-musical, they are undeniably a significant part of why Stravinsky’s ballet score is a landmark in music history. Ditto Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique and many of Cage’s works.
But in the “I’ve heard it all before” malaise of the early 21st century, it is difficult to convey the one-time shock value of certain language and images, never mind certain harmonies, rhythms, or timbres. And while I certainly subscribe to the “anything goes” aesthetic, I yearn to be surprised, unsettled, startled, even offended in order to have my world view irrevocably altered and hopefully expanded. This seems to be the greatest power of art.
Perhaps those transformations are now the responsibility of the audience rather than the art itself. Perhaps unbridled reaction is the key to making an experience new. That said, I can’t imagine myself ever booing a performance, let alone throwing a punch at someone as several audience members are rumored to have done at The Rite’s premiere. (I’m a pacifist.)
Have you ever booed a performance, or worse? Or have you observed an event that completely disrupted a performance? What provoked it? If you booed, etc., what did you hope to accomplish by your actions? How did the rest of the audience react to your behavior?
In a truly “anything goes” audience environment—which I’m not sure anyone would find enjoyable—is listening possible? Of course, Deep Listening has taught us to always listen, but what is the (dare I use an evaluative word) quality of such listening?