It has, perhaps, not been realized that theatre audience anywhere in the world constitute a dominant force in the theatre hierarchy. A theatrical performance becomes “lifeless” without the breath of the audience members owing to their role of involvement. Brecht understood this and so sought for an alternative mode of dramaturgy that “instructs questions, provokes redefinitions that arouse new thought, and is, therefore, truly agitational” (54)
Indeed, it is of the nature of the theatre, during its performances, to jolt its audience from its anaesthesia and prepare them for action. Adedeji rates it thus:
The medium of theatre engages a person in a positive discovery and expression of itself… whatever feeling, meaning and spirit that is created in the theatre, is usually shared with the audience members who will have an opportunity to experience it (20).
Towards achieving this feat, this study considers two issues. The first is what constitute theatre audiences and what it is to build audiences; and the second, how far this could go in keeping them in shift formal sense as audiences in view of the fact that theatre requires audiences all the time vis-a-vis the administration of audiences who have come to the theatre to engage with new ideas while being entertained.
Being assumed that Nigerian educational theatres are capable of building audiences, however, keeping it becomes a different matter. On the other hand, the fall in theatre audiences perhaps because the theatre cannot keep or sustain it explains the long journey of lesser patronage of theatrical performances. In this connection, Nwamuo’s assertion that the theatre is
…. a demonstration (imitation) of any action by anyone as a group of people at a particular place and moment in time, with or without makeup, costumes rehearsals or improvisation before an audience gathered for interest to share and celebrate… (40).
by its content, scope and methodologies realizes that the audience is the better half of the theatre enterprise, seeks to woo them to come “savour” the performance, know how to retain them for the future via making them comfortable, cater for their needs and ensure their safety while on the premises.
Hence, the idea of planning, organizing, directing and controlling the audience members and their interaction in order to attain the predetermined objectives of having a full house, guaranteeing satisfaction and maximum profit is influenced by engineering the audience members in a patterned way as orchestrated by the management of the theatre. This, Nwamuo considers as;
…the skillful instruction, the contriving and devising of a means of getting intended audience to see what they have to see, in an organized, comfortably safe and pleasurable environment so they can continue to patronize the organization’s programmes (10).
Audience engineering practice in the modern day educational theatre is highly competitive and advanced in nature. It comes with it, the “art” and “science” woven around different techniques to tackle its compelling, demanding and gruesome nature.
To this end, this study undertakes a comparative study of the University of Calabar Chinua Achebe Theatre and the University of Uyo Little Play House audience engineering approaches during their production seasons.
1.1 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Without good and effective approaches in managing the audience that “invade” the theatre especially, in the Nigerian Universities, there is every tendency that the theatre will one day experience a “zero turn-out”. This is especially true when one considers the fact that patronage for live performances, no matter how elaborate the performance, have not been encouraging taking cognizance of other elements of entertainment prevalent in the society. This forestalls the assumption that the theatre though capable of building audiences; lacks the “grace” to keep and maintain it hence, the fall in theatre audience experienced by theatre organization.
It is however, the believe of this researcher that theatre audiences especially that of educational theatres, can be improved upon if effective audience engineering strategies are adopted.
1.2 JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY
Since audience engineering incorporates the scientific and skillful designing, organizing and implementing of an action plan aimed at winning large audiences to a theatrical event using the art and science of human management, the nature of the study aims to analyze through a comparative study, the approaches of engineering the audience members that visit the University of Uyo Little Play House and its Calabar counterpart, The Chinua Achebe Arts Theatre, with emphasis centered on how they “work”. This work therefore proposes that other theatres in Nigeria (educational or commercial) should adopt the “Idea” of audiences engineering used by these theatres as presented by this work.