Experiment 1: Audience responses

As a first experiment, I wanted to see if I could use the comic form to present a small piece of analysis from the end of a particular circle show performance. The bit of interaction is interesting because the performer treats the timing of applause from the audience as problematic and then has to undertake some work to get the audience to applause at the appropriate moment. A transcript of the interaction is provided below.

As we join the action, the performer has nearly completed his grand finale trick, which is to squeeze his body through the frame of a tennis racket. When the racket is around his waist, the performer talks to the audience about payment (not shown in the transcript). The transcript begins as he then returns to the tasks of finishing the finale trick and the performance (line 1):


I have transcribed various features of the interaction including pauses (e.g., ‘(0.7)’ denotes the amount of time in seconds; ‘(.)’ denotes a micro pause of less than (0.2) seconds), emphasis (denoted by underlining a word), and if a person is speaking quietly (denoted by °degree˚ signs) or loudly (denoted by the word written in UPPERCASE) in relation to the surrounding talk. For the purpose of the experiment, we do not need to worry about the other transcription symbols.

As is the case for other kinds of entertainment events, rather than there being a a number of individual speakers, there is a performer (‘P’) and an audience (‘A’). In the transcript you can see that the audience provides two kinds of responses: these are cheers or ‘woos’ (denoted by lower case ‘w’ or uppercase ‘W’ depending on the intensity of the response) and applause (denoted by lower case ‘x’ or uppercase ‘X” depending on intensity, and ’-x-‘ for sporadic applause). You can also see that I have transcribed where audience cheers and applause occur (e.g., lines 3 and 6), including beginnings and endings, and relative to the performer’s talk. I have also indicated the duration of these responses (e.g., lines 4 and 7).

At line 3 you can see how some sporadic audience applause occurs in the (0.2) second pause after the performer’s ‘thank you’ (line 2). This sporadic applause continues as the performer resumes talking. The performer treats this as problematic: he starts to announce the end of the show (‘this is (.) the<‘) but then asks the audience to refrain from giving applause (<°hold it for one second°). Once he has managed to curtail this applause, he then restarts and completes his talk (‘<THIS IS (.) ↑THE: (.) END’). At line 8, we see that the audience then provides rapturous applause.

The transcript also describes some gestural work: at line 13, for example, the performer holds his hat up in the air and then rests it on his chest as he talks to his audience. There is also a gesture that I haven’t included in this transcript, which occurs as the performer tells the audience to ‘<°hold it for one second°’; the performer simultaneously does a ‘ring’ gesture with his index finger and thumb.

With just this single bit of analysis, we can appreciate how nuanced and finely coordinated the interaction is between performer and the audience. We learn that the performer momentarily halts announcing the end of the performance in order to have the audience stop giving sporadic applause. This clears the way for the performer to announce the end of the performance and have the audience then provide timely applause. In sum, the performer takes steps to maintain interactional control over the end of the performance. There are other things that are analytically interesting in this transcript, but for the purpose of the experiment, I just want to stay with this one observation.

Here is the comic strip I produced to try and capture what the performer was doing (i.e., his talk and gesture) and the audience’s responses. The aim was to preserve the temporality of action — the timing of when things occurred — that is clearly important for understanding what is going.


I should mention that I used a single wide-angle video camera to record the show. This was always pointed at the performer, but also captured a fairly large chunk of the audience to the right (as we look at the performer). You will see that the panels above only show the performer, which was achieved by enlarging the image. My decision for this was grounded in what the analysis pointed to what was important for the reader to see; that it was the embodied features of the performer that were important to show in the images. The performer was responding to what he heard (i.e., applause) whereas the audience were responding to both what they saw and heard. The panels therefore depict the same subject, with the transitions being mostly ‘moment to moment’. The audience’s participation is only depicted through its responses (more on this in a moment).

The panels show what the performer was doing at particular key moments when he is talking. So, for example, between the first and second panel the performer hast leant forward slightly in preparation to push the tennis racket over his legs. This change in posture is coordinated with the talk that moves from thanking the audience to beginning his utterance that will announce the end of the performance. The third panel then depicts the performer’s ‘ring’ gesture that co-occurs with his request to ‘<°hold it for one second°’. The broken speech bubble indicates that this talk is produced quieter in comparison with the surrounding talk. The sense of the talk and gesture are mutually elaborative as the performer intervenes to have the sporadic applause curtailed and instead have applause produced elsewhere. The fourth and fifth panels show that the performer precisely coordinates pushing the tennis racket over his legs on the word ‘END’.

Moving on to the audience, it is represented only by the cheering and applauding responses it produces. These are the salient things that the performer is orienting to and, therefore, what I have decided as salient for the reader. For the applause, I have used a pair clapping hands. I have attempted to show the intensity of the applause by the size of the hands, though this doesn’t necessarily illustrate that it is sporadic. I have also placed hands where audience applause occurs roughly relative to the performer’s talk. With that said, recall that the sporadic applause began in the (0.2) second pause between the performer’s ‘thank you’ and ‘this is’. To depict this, it might have been better to adjust the hands slightly to the left so that they began in the ‘gutter’ between the first and second panel. However, it is not clear how much time is represented by the gutter. In a similar way, I have attempted to map the occurrence of audience cheers relative to the performer’s talk. I have also stretched the text to represent the rise and fall in intensity.

On reflection, the experiment works reasonably well at showing where audience applause and cheers occur relative to what the performer is doing, and how they relate. The comic strip preserves a sense that the performer orients to the premature applause as problematic and that he is able to momentarily curtail it, though the precise timings are somewhat unclear. I also think that that comic strip offers a way of understanding what each participant is doing in relation to the other ‘at a glance’. Perhaps most successfully, the comic strip provides a reasonably clear sense of the performer’s embodied work — of the coordination of talk, gesture, body and objects.

Incorporating_analysis_2   Busking_response   Page_1