Where is that childlike exuberance of old? Why do we need permission to whoop and holler? Kids still laugh and play and scream when playing. Why are some of us so afraid to scream on a roller coaster or shout out a cheer with full voice?
My 79-year-old mother had been voicing her desire to go to the circus. She kept seeing the advertisement on the TV and would mention it, all the time. One of the decisions I made a while ago was that if Mum really wanted to do something and it was in my power to do “make it so”, I would do so. Being conscious and after listening to friends after their parents passed on, I have the opportunity to prevent at least some of the “I wish I had” moments. So I booked us ringside seats. We were literally seated in front at a barrier which was the only separation between us and the elephants butt.
My mum was like an awestruck child. She ate ice cream and snow cones and the man flying out of the canon took her breath away, mine too. I was like a noisy seven-year-old child now that I had free rein on my voice. I was clapping and hollerring when the acts came out. The clowns were working hard and the horses and elephants were bowing. I was cheering and clapping as they expected. An elderly couple came and sat next to my mother and I in the front row. The woman actually placed her hand over her ear when I shouted in glee. I felt the child within recognise that sense of being quashed, humiliated, embarrassed. I then thought to myself “sod it” I’ve come too far to let some old…biddy, pardon the expression, shut me up again. I did move to the other side of my mother to get away from that drowning joy extinguisher.
I looked around the audience and realized that there were many fizzled fires in the room. Now it was very hot under that tent I grant you, but it was a hundred times hotter for the performers under the lights. Okay there is a second layer to this story I confess. Being a performer myself, these circus performers were my people. I could see how hard they were working. I could see how hard they worked to get audience participation. It was almost as if there should have been a tutorial before the event. “The protocols of being an audience member.” For a while I was so consumed with my caretaker that came up for my circus peeps, I noticed that it was taking away from my enjoyment. Perhaps I was over-whooping and hollering because everybody else was so quiet. My residual sense of over responsibility came into play. My voice became inauthentic and that of judgemental enjoyment, rather than the free spirit of the seven-year-old. I had to shut the audience out and turn my attention again to the performers, my enjoyment and that of my mothers. I became the seven-year-old again clapping, oohing and ahing and engaging with the performers as if they were engaging with only me.
The truth is we just don’t go to the theatre or the circus or live performances as much as we used to as a society. Many truly do not know that they are allowed to make a noise at these performances. When I was a little girl in England, we used to go to pantomimes. At these pantomimes someone would actually come out to the audience and give you some of the things that audiences were expected to do really loudly. If the bad guy showed up behind an actor we were all supposed to shout really loudly “he’s behind you”. There was usually a gag line where someone would fall over and the actor would say “what are you doing down there?” The audience was expected to shout “getting up”. And of course there was the usual booing and hissing that was practised before the performance.
Perhaps it is time for audiences to be educated again. Many are going to the theatre or any live performance for the first time. I truly believe is that in some ways as a society we are more strangled and not less so. The number of times I have been told to calm down or take it easy when I have been excited, jumping up and down clapping my hands from sheer delight, saddens me now. It used to embarrass me, shame me and put me in that shut down place.We are not encouraged to exude joy and laughter openly, freely, loudly.
Do you hold back from laughing out loud or cheering loudly. Do you ever jump up and down and squeal with glee? Yes I am talking to the adults out there. If I have any young readers I would love to hear from you too. Free your inside voice and find that outside voice. Be a giving audience and know you have permission to engage out loud.