It is undeniably true – live audiences are getting less responsive and are becoming harder to actually engage.
I am referring to seated audiences at a show, not close-up audiences in a strolling situation. In the TV-World of canned applause and advantageous cut-away shots, modern audiences appear to be having the times of their lives watching performers on stage. But in the trenches, where laughter and applause are not “digitally enhanced”, the reaction we are getting from our audiences has changed. Today’s audience specializes in interacting with a screen – phones, tablets, and giant home flat screens. By the time they have reached the age of ten, they are owned by these screens. These screens ask nothing of us in the way of physical response, so we are becoming a generation of non-responders. Slow moving and blank-faced - taking it all in, but giving out very little in return. Just like Zombies, only there’s cheese doodles dripping from our mouths instead of blood.
Kids under 10 still have some ability to spontaneously react to the magical and the humorous, but it’s tough to get older kids and adults to break out of their screen-mentality and really live in the theatrical moment. And these competition shows don’t help either. Audiences now see themselves as the “judges” of the entertainment they are watching, and this only alienates them further.
Based on audience statements made to me after my shows, it's clear that they are truly enjoying themselves, but during the show many of them have severe "Screen Face". So, what do we highly energetic, interactive performers do? Do we adjust our show so that we ask nothing back from the audience in the way of spontaneous, or even polite, response? Do we amend our show so that it includes some actual screen time for the audience? Or do we plow ahead with our old-fashioned methods of engagement, and wait for the Zombie Apocalypse to subside?