The Return of The Audience

Even if the stage is in complete darkness, I feel the staring eyes of the spectators, I hear their sighs the moment before they take off, I see their faces – expectant and curious.

The quote is not accurate and there is no specific author behind it, but we are convinced that many artists from the field of performing arts would out their name to it. Dancers and choreographers we have worked with over the years admit that they study the audience during the performances, that they are subject to its reactions, and try to captivate them by changing their expression. Each show has a different charge, no matter how many times it is performed, no matter how many times it has been watched.
The audience is as visible in the hall, as the dancers are visible in the spotlight. The emotions are mirrored. Within an hour or so dancers and spectators exist as one. This connection is so powerful that often it is exactly what remains memorable. The connection. The chemistry.
We say all this because the audience gives meaning of art’s existence. Their Majesties The Viewers have the power to reward, motivate, awaken, or subdue the artist with their very presence. They might not realize it, but yes, the audience is everything.

Who imagined that the audience might be gone?
The COVID-19 pandemic silenced theaters and rehearsal halls without any time or space for viewers and artists to say goodbye. “I’ll see you again, but it’s not clear when”. “When” was the question at the beginning of this unprecedented crisis.
The pandemic has threatened the existence of co-productions, international distribution, and creative mobility. Canceled premieres and long-awaited performances around the globe, a culturе frozen for months, followed by huge financial losses for the sector. Against this background there was only the consolation that the culture still remained somehow close to the viewer – only online.
If the pandemic brought anything good, it was the solidarity between artists and audiences, realizing how connected we are and how the other was also affected. The audience seeks refuge in culture in the most difficult and gloomy times. Artists desire to give them their creation. Unconditionally. Without reservations. There is reciprocal help.

Just like the crew of the Berlin State Opera sewed protective masks instead of stage costumes, so they did at the Burgas Opera. As long as it was necessary.

In the name of the audience
The creative community around the world has done everything in its power to fill this cultural void. Carte Blanche – Norway’s national contemporary dance company, performed at orphanages and community centers while broadcasting live on the internet. Peeping Tom and Dimitris Papaioannou opened their archives with some of their most iconic works. The Metropolitan Opera offered everyone to see top-quality content online. And these are just a few of the many good examples.

The blow to independent artists and freelance artists was so strong that it threatened their physical survival for months, but they also continued to be active with various initiatives, including online dance classes.

The cultural sector was recognized as one of the most affected sectors and an institutional response followed at international and national level. The most striking example was Sweden, which announced a historic package of 3.4 billion kroner (around 325 million euros) for over a two-year period. This is the largest investment for the creative sector in the world so far and covers both individual support for artists and structural funds for organizations, as well as financial incentives for regional initiatives, new works, and purchases of works by Swedish artists and others for museums and galleries.

The stage is calling

Now, in mid-September, audiences are gradually returning to the theaters and independent spaces – from local productions to international forums with selected solo performances or dance performances created in isolation during the pandemic, such as the Torinodanza Festival. And we no longer ask when, but how will the full return of the audience happen?
Physical distance, reduced seating capacity, mandatory face masks, strict sanitary requirements, control of movement in theaters, measuring the temperature of each spectator… Many different measures are constantly applied and adapted in different countries around the world due to this unprecedented situation we are in today.

While most public conversations revolve around the losses suffered by theaters, they omit the losses suffered by spectators with the significant reduction of opportunities for active cultural life.

Tsvetana Georgieva