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Theatre: The Anonymous Audience 

By Robert W. Bethune
ART TIMES Summer 2014

Backstage on opening night, one of the questions you will always hear one cast member ask another is, “Do you have anybody coming?” Meaning, will there be any friends or family of yours in the house tonight?

It’s always nice to have those you know come and see your work. It’s nice to know that those close to you care. However, how much should you care back? How important is what your friends and family think of your work?

If you’re really lucky, they’ll actually tell you. Fortunate indeed are artists who have somebody close to them who will respond honestly to the work! Unfortunately, most artists aren’t so lucky. Yes, we can all read the shifty-eyed “Good job” that means the opposite, but that’s more of a corrosive toxin than a healthy tonic.

Even if they’ll actually tell you, they aren’t the ones you really need. Bottom line, they don’t pay the bills (except for the spouse who loves you enough to support you.) There’s more to “paying the bills” than money. Your friends and family cannot serve as a supportive, appreciative public. They aren’t the public—they’re your friends and family.

So what really matters, even on opening night when you need all the support you can get, is the anonymous audience, the people you don’t know, the people who came and bought a ticket because they wanted to see the work—unlike your friends and family, who are probably there on comps! The anonymous audience doesn’t relate to you; they relate to the work; that’s why they are so important.

The anonymous audience is the one you should truly care about. In the end, they’re the only ones who count.

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