Yes, I’m going to talk about “The Speakeasy” again, but not in the way you think. I’m going to use it as a springboard for something else.
The audience tonight was out of control. They were loud and rowdy, though they didn’t seem too drunk (most of them, anyway). No, what it felt like was that there were a few large groups (I heard there was one that consisted of 16 people), and rather than let us do the work, they seemed intent on using the evening as a forum to entertain themselves.
During the show, I spend a good portion of the evening siting at one end of the bar. Almost all night long tonight, though, there were gangs of people clumped up at my corner, talking to each other (at our expense), commenting on the action, complimenting me (self-serving, yes, but inappropriate at the same time), and generally trying to pull focus from whatever else was going on. (They were also blocking me from being seen a couple of times, but I’m learning to work around obstacles like those.)
Now, if a person wants to spend their hard-earned money to do that – go to a show and not pay a lot of attention to it – I will not deny them that right. While it wasn’t really appropriate conduct, they weren’t out of hand enough to be given the ol’ heave-ho. (Though they came close at least once.) My purpose, though, isn’t to condemn them so much as it is to think about the effects of the group mind.
The Group Mind (to capitalize) can be a marvelous thing. I find that, in groups, people tend to be more creative, funnier, and sharper than they are on their own. There’s something about that dynamic – like flint striking tinder – that sparks ideas. In some forums, that’s fine. I welcome it in rehearsal (“Best idea in the room wins,” I often say when directing – and have gotten great ideas from stage managers, actors, and designers – whom I always credit, by the way) and at work, and when just trying to be creative and bounce ideas off someone.
Attending a show, though, doesn’t really seem to be that place, though. A friend of mine posted on Facebook how, in walking through downtown San Francisco last night, she was struck by how no one – pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorists – seemed to have any regard for either of the other groups. Pedestrians jaywalked heedlessly, drivers egregiously blew through red lights, and cyclists ignored any of the social – or legal – niceties (this last is, of course, standard operating procedure …).
While she saw it as evidence of either zombification of just plain inability to pay attention, I see it as more group-think. That even though motorists seem isolated in their cars, I think it’s easy to fall into group patterns (“that guy is going ten mph over the speed limit, I might as well, too,” or “Well, if he’s gonna run that light, I’m can make it”). Pedestrians can just form a blob-like entity that has its own dynamics of slowing or blocking the sidewalk (mobs of pedestrians never speed up). (Rule of thumb: The slower the walker, the more space they will attempt to occupy, and vice versa.) If that group decides to cross at a red light, cars will almost have to stop. On the other hand, given how often I see pedestrians walking either engrossed in their phones or their tunes, I have to wonder how much of that mob mentality is conscious or just an evolutionary link to our ancestors on the savannahs of Africa.
Cyclists, as I said, don’t give a rat’s ass about anything, but when you bunch them up – as anyone who’s ever been victimized by Critical Mass can testify – they become a single entity, dedicated to doing whatever the hell it wants. To bring up the other hand again, this is seen in even solitary bicyclists, so it may not seem a group phenomenon, but there is something exponential when you group them together.
So that’s what we were up against tonight: the mob – and not the kind that usually ran speakeasies. I get the feeling that the same people, in smaller combinations, would have been fine. They were responsive and attentive at times – when they weren’t putting on their own show. It was just when they hit critical mass that they became problematic.
The takeaway I got was that if I’m given the opportunity to go along with the group to have a swell time, it’s probably not going to be that swell, so I’ll pass.
And don’t even get me started on flash mobs.