A disclaimer: the following is not a review. It’s not even a complaint. More like …a warning? I guess? Sigh. If you read on, please know that I am probably going to come across as a weird, stick-in-the mud killjoy who really needs to get a grip.
This past Saturday night I accompanied my beau, my sister, and my brother-in-law to see Puddles Pity Party at The Plaza in Orlando. I was super excited about this because one, The Plaza is undoubtedly Orlando’s easiest venue for attending live shows. It’s not in the downtown area, it’s got plentiful, non-complicated parking, and it’s just very…low-production. Two, I had seen some youtube videos of Puddles The Clown and loved both his beautiful, booming voice, as well as the concept of his one man show. Except…I didn’t know exactly what his show entailed. Oh, if only I’d watched a few of his live performances, instead of bunch of overly-produced videos. If only I’d known what was in store.
See…I have this thing with audience participation. Not only do I nearly go catatonic with fright at the mere idea of enforced participation from a personal standpoint, I can’t even watch it happening to other people in front of me, while I watch. Heck, I can’t even watch it in television or the movies. The very thought of it fills me with unspeakable dread. And Puddles the Clown is a master of walking that line between delighting his audience and making them suffer through these uncomfortable feelings . “He doesn’t just break the fourth wall,” writes one reviewer; “he invades people’s personal space.” Time and again throughout his show, Puddles would prowl through the seated, sold-out crowd for volunteers and victims.
When I witnessed the third person pulled from the crowd to join Puddles onstage for some unexpected humiliation, I realized “oh, so this is how it’s going to go,” and literally felt my lower lip tremble and tears threaten to spill. I was seated in the balcony, and there was no way Puddles was making his way up there to grab me. Or…was he? “Please dear god no,” I prayed desperately under my breath as I slunk lower and lower in my seat.
I glanced to my companions on either side of me–both of whom were enjoying themselves, and the show, immensely. Their laughter sounded faint to my ears, as, unaware of my distress, they joined in the crowd’s merriment of Puddle’s fidgets* and quirks and shenanigans. What is wrong with me? I thought miserably, wishing to be swallowed up entirely by the worn upholstery of the fold-up seats.
NYMag recently posted a fascinating article about why audience participation is so terrifying; they compare it, somewhat, to public speaking, but note that “…the spontaneity of an audience-participation situation, on the other hand, can be stressful because it eliminates that preparation time and adds a layer of spontaneity. It also subverts expectations for the role you’re expected to play. Generally, audiences are supposed to be passive. Performers who single out audience members for an active role have ‘flipped the script,’ , turning a relaxing activity into anything but.”
And of course this can be especially distressing for “shy people or people with social anxiety disorder, who often rely on a predictable and limited set of scripts for social interaction and have a lower tolerance for uncertainty.”
And yet…that rich, extraordinary voice! Was it worth the torment and torture to have heard his gorgeously sorrowful rendition of Space Oddity? Now that a few days have passed and I have the luxury of the experience as a memory, I can *almost* say yes. Almost. I have to ask myself though…if I had known that was the sort of evening I was in for, would have done in the first place?
I…am thinking no.
*Puddles The Clown was chomping on an obscenely enormous wad of gum throughout the entirety of the show. If you don’t know this about me, you should: I cannot stand gum. There is nothing–nothing!– that disgusts me more. I have to walk away when someone is chewing it in the same room with me, and I’m starting to dry heave just a little right now, even as I type this out, about that imaginary offender.