AUDIENCE PROFILE AND BODY LANGUAGE STUDY
NOTE: The names used below have been changed to protect the privacy of our audience members.
To first contextualise this study, I will describe the performance/encounter here. The piece was very fluid, changing – at times, dramatically – from one audience member to the next. Intuition, caution, perception, and patience were key to the success of this performance. Throughout the piece, I make frequent and very personal, direct eye contact with the audience. Often, I hold the gaze longer than one would typically consider “socially appropriate.” This is not to threaten or intimidate, but rather to implore, very earnestly, ‘Let me in. I will not hurt you.’ It is an exercise in earning trust.
All the while, I sketch their portrait.
I am casual and easygoing throughout.
1. Audience is invited in to the space, instructed to step carefully over the barrier, and asked to sit on the chair
a. Note: the chair’s position and proximity to me was a major variable in each scenario
2. I sit, retrieve paper/my journal and a pen, and settle down on the floor cushions so that I am physically on a lower level than the audience. I take a breath to let the environment set.
3. I give some instruction regarding the audience’s physical positioning.
a. This was manifested in one or a combination of the following:
i. ‘Please cross your other leg over your knee’
ii. ‘Please place your hands at your sides, let them hang’
iii. ‘Please sit with both feet on the ground’
iv. ‘Please align your legs with the legs of the chair’
v. ‘Please cross your arms over your chest, flex your hands and keep them straight on the outsides of your arms.’
b. These different positions served the same purpose (to bring immediate awareness to the subject’s body) but to different degrees, ranging from a relaxed passivity to discomfort and, subsequently, fidgeting. For example, an audience member with their arms at their sides was much more openly exposed to me than one whose arms were crossed. On the other hand, the arms being crossed over the body in such a rigid way may have induced strong feelings of (physical, emotional, psychological) confinement. Ultimately, neither position was very sustainable, comfortable or desirable.
4. I inquire if the audience is comfortable. Regardless of their answer, we move forward. I ask them to try and hold still. I usually have to remind them. I ask them to look at me.
5. I hold my pen horizontally and then vertically out in front of me, squinting my eye discerningly to suggest that I am literally measuring the audience up.
a. I have been told this feels as though I am looking at the subject through a microscope, and that he or she feels highly self-aware and somewhat scrutinised
6. I begin to draw
7. I let the silence hang in the air for several long moments as I begin the sketch. (Here, I try to sketch the overall form as quickly as possible, for the sake of efficiency later on)
8. After holding the silence for so long, I speak: “Can I ask you something?” Invariably, the audience says, “Yes.” I ask, “How old do you think I am?” There is a brief pause, then a thinking aloud, and finally a direct verbal answer. Anywhere between 18 and 27 was given, but mostly on the ‘younger’ scale. I correct them with ’23’ and often ‘I had a birthday really recently.’ Sometimes they wish me a happy birthday or ask how it went. I respond amiably. Next I comment, “People always say I look younger than I actually am,” or something to that effect. From here, the conversation either proceeds casually, or we pause again and let the silence hang.
9. Periodically, I repeat the ‘measuring gesture’ of holding my pen in front of me and squinting my eyes.
10. All the while, I am moving very subtly and gradually towards the audience, closing the comfortable distance between us, encroaching upon his or her personal space. I note even the subtlest reactions to this.
11. I ask another question: “What colour are my eyes?” They want to lean forward to peer at me, but still guess inaccurately most of the time. The most common response was “Blue-grey,” when, in fact, my eyes are green. I correct them and quip that I have ‘my father’s eyes,’ and typically mention that my eyes changed colour as a small child. Sometimes I discuss the fact that kittens are born with blue eyes. Again, sometimes the conversation proceeds from here, or we settle back in to silence.
12. Here, at times, I feign that my pen has run out of ink by making a show of shaking it. Without explanation, but with the instruction to “Stay put” or “Don’t move,” I get up from the floor and move behind where the audience member is sat. I do this in such a way that they can hear me move for a moment, and then I hold very still so that they cannot. This is to instil the situation with a bit more uncertainty and unpredictability. I am in the physical power position at this point: I am stood, they are sat; I can see them, they cannot see me; I am mobile, they are frozen. Once I “find” my new pen, I return to my cushion space. I kneel now, rather than sit, and I am obviously closer to the chair than I was at the beginning.
13. I ask, “Oh, by the way, do you have your mother’s eyes, or your father’s eyes?” I allow them to ponder aloud and then answer. It is common that the audience becomes conversational, perhaps anecdotal, here. I let them speak and then assert that they have “very striking/unique eyes,” careful at this particular moment to hold the gaze with sincerity and appreciation. Here is the next subtle change in tension, one that precedes the climax of the interaction. I ask, “Has anyone ever told you that before?” The answers vary. The perceptive and guarded audience member will here begin to express physical signs of discomfort or tension. The more comfortable audience member will typically say, ‘Thank you,’ or engage me in further dialogue, which is often anecdotal. I allow the conversation to either proceed or settle.
14. The next question is the segue into the dramatic tension-shift in the piece. I ask, “Have you ever had a dream where you had someone else’s eyes?” or something of the like. Most often, they say ‘No,’ and either leave it at that or, perhaps feeling inadequacy in their answer, recount a dream they have had before. Only a tiny handful of people answer ‘Yes.’ I listen to their response. Invariably, they ask, “Have you?” without any direct prompting.
15. Casually, I respond with, “Yeah, actually, I have this dream where I’m looking in a mirror and my eyes are changing colour – from green to blue to brown to red and back again. And I’m so sort of transfixed by this that I don’t notice the door behind me opening” – here, sometimes, the audience would quickly glance behind them toward the door of the space – “The door opens and a [woman or man, depending on the gender of the audience member] enters, and it’s the same (wo)man every time. But I don’t recognise his/her face until he/she’s right behind me and I see him/her in the mirror. I turn around to look and the first thing I notice is his/her eyes. And the really funny thing is… they’re exactly like your eyes. His/her face is just like yours. And the first thing I noticed about you, when you came in, was your eyes… Anyway, so, you’re there and you smile at me, give me a little hug, and the dream isn’t scary or anything anymore. Then you touch me, and you kiss me, and we sort of fall to the ground. And we’re having sex…”
a. I make a point of holding their gaze in this moment. Here, at the climax of the piece, is where the tension is most palpable. The confession, in its explicitness, typically shocks the audience into a paralysed silence. Interestingly, most do not avert their eyes (though their embarrassment is quite obvious), but rather maintain a steady, intense eye contact with me here, letting the sentence hang in the air. Often, the audience’s pupils dilate, their eyes widen, or their eyebrows raise.
16. After a few long moments, I continue,“…and always, right before you orgasm, I wake up.” The word ‘orgasm’ is as personal as I can make the confession without using ‘shock’ words or phrasing to really amplify awkwardness. (NOTE: I did consider, in the piece’s development, going into more explicit detail of the sexual encounter, but ultimately decided against it for the aforementioned reasons. Rather, I left that to the audience’s imagination.) Once in a while, the audience will comment on this. It’s usually along the lines of, “Well, that’s not fair” or “Do you?” or “That’s unfortunate.” I answer and then pause momentarily, as if I’m about to tell the punch line of a joke.
17. I continue, “And the bizarre thing about all this is, well, I feel like when you dream about someone, you know that person in a very particular way. And I feel that. I feel like I know you in a very particular way. And, now that you know a few things about me, I wonder if you might dream about me as well?” Sometimes, I have to rephrase the question to make the point clear. “Will you dream about me too now?” Typically, the audience is still recovering from the ‘orgasm’ moment, unsure now of what to say or how to act. Almost always, the answer is affirmative. There are many variations, but here, roughly, are a few:
a. ‘After this, I definitely will.’
b. ‘Sure, why not.’
c. ‘Well, I don’t know that I can control my dreams.’ To which I respond, ‘But, will you try at least?’ to which they will reply, ‘Sure, I’ll try’ or ‘Yeah, I can try, definitely,’ etc.
d. And of course, rarely, ‘I don’t think so, no,’ to which I ask, ‘You won’t? Well, if you won’t dream of me, then it’s not fair for me to dream of you.’
18. If they have responded affirmatively, I smile happily. I say, “Well, in that case, I have something to give you before you leave,” and I make a small show of carefully examining their picture and then setting it beside me. Then I get up and rummage a bit until I find a hanging self-portrait and present it to them carefully. “Here,” I say, “This is one of me. So if you look at this every night before you go to sleep, your brain will remember to dream about me.” They will answer with some pleasantry, sensing that the end of the piece is nigh. I let the intimate silence hang between us for a moment, as if I’m considering whether or not to lean in and kiss them. Then, regretfully, I inform them that I have to lead them out now. I pause again briefly when they reach the door, my body in close proximity to theirs. I hold the flap open for them, remind them to step carefully over the barrier, and wait in the space. Sometimes they thank me. Sometimes I thank them.
If they have responded to the question negatively, I give them their own portrait and escort them out of my space and instruct them to wait.
Audience Member A: Observations
A enters the space and I instruct her to sit with her legs together, feet on the floor, and arms by her sides.
For the first few moments, she is quite exposed to me: back straight, shoulders low, arms by her sides, feet flat. Her stomach, torso, breasts, neck, and shoulders – all areas of female ‘vulnerability’ – are shielded only by her clothes. I take the opportunity, as I often do with the subject, to really examine her from head to toe. I keep my expression neutral. I do not express an opinion about what I see.
After several moments of silence, A informs me that sitting with her arms by her sides feels ‘unnatural,’ so I allow her to move them where she pleases. She places them, predictably, on her lap (this is a very typical ‘comfort’ position). I realise she has been holding her breath. She later asks me if I am going to draw her whole figure. I never draw anyone’s whole figure. Most audience do not question this. But A takes several opportunities to scrutinise the situation, possibly to deflate any awkwardness she may be experiencing.
She concentrates on keeping her eyes focused forward – either at me or on me, I cannot be sure which. Her smile expresses a calm acceptance, perhaps enjoyment, but it is still protected. Occasionally, her eyes dart to other parts of the space, until she notices me looking at her and not the paper, whereupon she returns her focus to me.
When the stretches of silence are quite long, A furrows her brow minutely, lets the corners of her mouth drop, suggesting an internal (cerebral, emotional, psychological, phenomenological) digestion of the present situation: the environment, the circumstances, our relationship, the event, etc. Otherwise, she smiles often and with sincerity, particularly when we converse.
As the tension rises, her body makes nearly imperceptible shifts every now and then: she moves her right hand to cover her left, later switching; she readjusts her sitting position slightly; her chin tilts inward. She is otherwise quite composed.
Whenever possible, she directs the conversation away from herself. One tactic she uses is asking me questions about myself: my drawings, my room, etc. I interpret this as a defence mechanism.
The conversation moves naturally. At “Sex” and “Orgasm,” she remains shielded and passive, but our eyes stay locked. There is something daunting in her unaffectedness and I have to push myself to surge forward without trepidation; I have to remind myself that I have the power in this moment, that I will not become embarrassed or scared. Our conversation turns when she recounts a personal dream of hers to me, and this feels warm and genuine, a moment of connection between us.
I direct the discussion back to my dream about her. When I finally ask ‘the question,’ her first response (predictably) is something akin to “I don’t know that I can really control my dreams,” to which I reply, “Well, it’s naïve to think we can totally control our dreams. But I think we can try to influence them a little… So, will you try?” She again avoids answering directly, saying, “I don’t know if that’s possible” and so on. I must appear rather dejected here, because she shifts suddenly. ”Oh, well, but you look disappointed, so yes, I suppose I will try.” I did not anticipate an affirmative answer from her, so this is a pleasant surprise. I give her my portrait, escort her to the main space, and thank her.
In this final brief moment, we embody the archetypal relationship of the Dejected and the Comforter. This characterisation is a safety net in a way - we can both play this dynamic and still protect ourselves from vulnerability. In each encounter I make myself highly vulnerable, so I’m accustomed to that discomfort. But because our roles aren’t defined as ‘performer’ and ‘spectator,’ A and most other audience search for clues about our relationship and grasp at what feels most accessible or comfortable.