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Audience participation at the Feast Dinner Theatre

I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague

Maintaining composure can be difficult for a performer at the best of times. Being on stage is tough. It requires incredible concentration to deliver a good performance and something as small as the ding of a cell phone can disrupt an artist’s focus. We’ve all peered around to see who’s ringing so we can give them a dirty look.

A ringing cell phone is bad, but unwelcome audience participation is worse. The performers are usually in the middle of a certain piece of dialogue or a song and someone shouts or acts out, desperate for attention. In that moment those people believe what they’re doing adds to the value to the show. It almost never goes well and can result in some truly cringe-worthy moments. 

It would be shocking if someone shouted “He’s not dead, I can see him breathing” during a performance of Anne. The fourth wall, the invisible barrier that separates the performers from the audience, is far too strong to allow that kind of thing to happen. But other types of performance are more prone.

2018 is the 40th anniversary of the Feast Dinner Theatre. The show has been a staple of the Island’s summer entertainment line up since its inception. It’s produced some great shows and some notable alumni including As It Happens host Jeff Douglas and Soul Pepper Theatre mainstay Mike Ross. This year’s show is called Up in Smoke. I took in the performance at the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel in mid-July. The show tells the story of the Simpson sisters and their farm in Cavendish. The three sisters are broke and are torn about what to do with the family farm.

It’s a fun show. The food is good, and the performers are highly talented. The story is light and accessible to just about anyone. But boy, oh boy is it prone to unwelcome audience participation.

Imagine the focus required to not only play a part in a show, but play every instrument in a rock band, sing, deliver dialogue in a story, take food and drink orders, deliver said food and drink, and bus tables all in the same night. It takes incredible skill and concentration to perform well under those conditions. The performers are in character and engaged with the audience while they do food and drinks. To a certain degree they make you feel involved. They might even call an audience member out for something they said during one of these interactions. They play a few songs, and they advance the story with dialogue.

It was during one of those pieces of dialogue that four, somewhat inebriated audience members decided they would make themselves part of the show. I suppose they were emboldened by the combination of alcohol and live performance interaction. A performer had to literally shout “IT’S MY TURN TO TALK NOW!” to stop one man’s interruptions. It was painful to watch. What was it like for the performers?

Given everything else they have to do, the last thing they should have to face is unruly audience members who insist on injecting off-the-cuff one-liners at the expense of the show. Even if by some miracle someone produces a zinger, the show must go on as if it was never spoken. These performers work too hard to have someone ruin the show from the outside.

Enjoy the show. Don’t try to be part of it. 

—Andrew Sprague has been writing about food for The Buzz since the turn of the millenium. He is the author of Taste: Recipes from Prince Edward Island’s Best Restaurants (Nimbus, 2006).

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