ED2016 Columns ED2016 Theatre

Sean Kempton: The horror of audience participation

By | Published on Friday 12 August 2016

Sean Kempton

Cirque Du Soleil clown Sean Kempton is presenting his first solo show this Festival, ‘Stuff’, described as a “highly energetic and entertaining physical piece that takes its audience on a journey through the fragility, hilarity and awkwardness that love can sometimes entail”.
As a performer very used to interacting with his audience, we asked Sean to offer some tips to the Fringe-goer who suddenly finds themselves part of the show.

Have you felt that utter dread of being chosen as a volunteer? You start to sweat, avert your eyes, breath faster and wish you were somewhere else? Don’t worry, I am exactly the same. We fear showing ourselves up, being made to look a fool.

But the good news is, it is not in the performer’s interest to choose someone who is not comfortable; the audience will feel their tension and will clam up. On the other hand, someone who is too confident, plays too much and wants to demonstrate their amazing personality can be the death of an act.

So how can you reduce this stress and be a good participant? Well, here are four top tips…

1. Our job is to make you look as amazing as possible, at this point it is nothing about the performer, the focus is on the volunteer. An experienced showman will always give you clear instructions, if you follow them you will succeed.

2. Make eye contact. Firstly you will forget there is an audience, and secondly a lot of instructions are conveyed with the eyes, use them and you will relax.

3. Know that there is no right or wrong. No one is interested in you being the best dancer/acrobat… they’re interested in who you are and how you overcome a challenge, so be yourself, breathe and have fun. Each of us is unique and that is what is where the fun lies. Working with volunteers is different every time.

4. Understand that if we feel you are really suffering we will put you gently back in the pond and choose someone else.

I could mention some of the don’ts as well, but then you might try them, and you don’t want to feel the silence from the audience that those would generate. But – with my tips in mind – take a risk, step up and be a hero for the day.

Sean Kempton’s ‘Stuff’ was performed at Assembly George Square Theatre at Edinburgh Festival 2016.