Audience participation, it's a dangerous tightrope to walk. I've just watched a show where members of the audience (not volunteers, just people in the front row) were forced to grope the actors. It went fine for most of the show, but there was a definite moment where awkward humour slipped into painful embarrassment and I was desperate for the performers to stop before the poor audience member fell into a proper rage.
It reminds me of a friend who went to see her favourite comedian, someone she had loved for years. Unfortunately he decided to spend the entire show mocking her laugh. A bad choice surely for someone whose success is measured in...laughs. She found herself unable to enjoy any of his jokes and generally came away feeling a bit sour about the whole experience.
Last night I saw a comedian who obviously shares my mild fear of misplaced participation. He set himself up an audience participation moment which was designed to fail- the failure was his punchline. Genius I thought to start with. Until I considered it a bit more carefully and again I was put on edge, what if it hadn't failed? What if people had joined in, thus spoiling his joke entirely?
I don't seem to be worried about risky moments like this if I'm making a show, just if I'm watching one. I always feel for the performers who go out on a limb to potentially create a horrendous tumbleweed moment, if I'm doing it myself it's not so bad. Maybe it's because in the audience you are amidst the impending doom, you are the creator of that painful silence just before people laugh.
I must have been drunk with power at the show I just watched, all I had to do to diffuse the tension at the groping was laugh. Why didn't I laugh? Please fellow theatre watchers, if you ever see me being forced to grope an actor, just laugh. It will make sure we all stay on that tightrope.