From November 29th to December 1st, The Theatre On King (TTOK) welcomes back Planet 12 Productions’ with their presentation of Ian McWethy’s Appropriate Audience Behaviour.
With Ryan Kerr taking over directorial duties, the production is an amalgamation of the Planet 12 performers alongside a collection of TTOK players in an often clever script that pokes strong jabs at terrible audiences in an immersive theatre experience.
A fairly obscure show by emerging American playwright Ian McWethy, little information exists about the origins or production history of Appropriate Audience Behaviour.
The show was discovered by Planet 12’s Derek Weatherdon on playscripts.com, an independent publisher of new plays and musicals where McWethy (who is also an actor) has more than 30 scripts published.
Appropriate Audience Behaviour is a cleverly crafted play where the audience and actors become merged, and a sort of metaphysical experience takes place. The show becomes a criticism by the playwright about his personal issues with bad audience members. While he airs his beefs through humour, there is a hint of aggressive cynicism just under the surface. The play invites you to watch a performance of Hamlet with the worst audience in the world but, instead of watching Hamlet, you are actually watching the audience.
High school students Ashley (Emma Meinhardt) and Carol (Sam Weatherdon) are at the play for an English project, but find it impossible to enjoy the performance due to the constant interference of the eccentric and annoying audience members around them.
There is the texter (sorry … talxter) in the back row (Emily Keller), the overzealous Claudius fan (Eddy Sweeney), the Shakespeare snob (Kelsey Gordon Powell), the confused older couple (Sheila Charleton and Andrew Root), the food guy (Derek Weatherdon), the girls getting too involved in the show (Abbie Dale and Aimee Gordon), the orgasm woman (Shannon McKenzie), and the creepy guy in the back row (Nathan Govier).
As Ashley and Carol battle in vain for silence in the theatre, the tables are eventually turned as they become victims of the things that are driving them the craziest.
Appropriate Audience Behaviour opens with an interesting pre-show experience, an exercise in endurance all of its own when the audience is left in silence with the cast sitting across from them for what seems to be a much longer length of time than it actually is.
As members of the cast mutter their own improvised dialogue, some of the most entertaining moments of the show emerge. Primarily entertaining is Andrew Root, who comes up with some hilarious bits about Hamlet, and his arguments with Kelsey Gordon Powell and Sheila Charleton are comedic gold.
After a while the barrier between the audience and performers begins to break down, and I’ll admit that at one point I forgot I was even watching a show at all and actually checked my phone. Was I becoming part of that bad audience behaviour, or just victim of a very immersive experience?
Once the actual play begins, it becomes a series of vignettes where the audience is taken from character to character, witnessing their bizarre and often bad behaviour. Sometimes it really works. Derek Weatherdon’s food gags are pretty funny, and the way that sound is used to create conflict is really clever. Andrew Root and Sheila Charleton’s characters Benny and Ruth have some very funny bits as a couple experiencing Shakespeare for the first time.
It is also worth noting that, with the permission of the playwright, Derek Weatherdon added one major vignette featuring Kelsey Gordon Powell as a Shakespeare snob who patronizes the two young audience members. It is an interesting commentary in toxic and privileged fan behaviour, a current concern in fandom today.
But Appropriate Audience Behaviour isn’t without its challenges. In an opening monologue by Lindsey Unterlander, as Hamlet’s stage manager, she seems to speak through the voice of Ian McWethy, revealing all of his pent-up rage against the bad audiences he has encountered. Although the monologue is supposed to be comical, it becomes more of an attack and threatens to alienate the audience in the first few moments of the show. Thankfully, once the show begins it becomes much funnier and less patronizing.
As annoying as some of the play’s audience characters are, I find Ashley and Carol — the two high school students attempting to enjoy Hamlet — the most aggressive characters in the show. I’ve dealt with audience members like them in real life and, in my experience, they can be the most infuriating. Due to their frustration, Ashley and Carol soon become the rudest characters of all.
Perhaps this is the playwright’s intention: to show how even the most well-meaning people can become terrible audience members without even knowing it. From that perspective, watching the tables get turned on the two girls is interesting.
Appropriate Audience Behaviour has some interesting meta moments, and it’s good to experience work from a new playwright for the first time. The premise is unique, and Ryan Kerr has made some interesting directing choices, especially in breaking the third wall by merging players and audience.
But the most interesting thing about the play is the merger of players from Planet 12 Productions and TTOK. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for the young players in the Planet 12 company, and I always enjoy watching them perform. Seeing them interact with a different group of adult performers, and being directed by a different director, is a new experience.
Appropriate Audience Behaviour runs from November 29th to December 1st at The Theatre on King (171 King St., Peterborough). Shows begin at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10 at the door or pay what you can.