Last night I attended a taiko drumming performance at a theatre downtown. It was gorgeous. As an introduction, two members of the troupe danced on stage in lion masks. The little girl behind me, with more fantastic creatures on her mind, asked, “Is that a real dragon?” “No,” her teenage brother scoffed, “it’s a person in a costume.”
They continued their conversation through most of the rest of the performance. Granted, taiko is not a quiet art form, but it is meditative, powerful, and (at least in this presentation) best listened to without a chatty child and a sullen but talkative teenager sitting behind you. Of course the little girl didn’t know any better, but what’s sad is that neither her brother nor their parent did either.
The tv doesn’t care if you talk while it’s on, and you can always watch a movie again. But any live performance is a once-in-a-lifetime event. The performers know you’re there; sometimes they can see and hear you. And there is something perhaps sacred about witnessing people do something extraordinary, whether it is the strength and discipline of taiko drumming, the suspended disbelief of storytelling, or the illusions of slight of hand. But the audience is a participant in live performance, even if they don’t know it.