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The Crowd Settles and Focuses on the Performance

An opera house holds around 4 or 5 thousand people. When the performance is ready to begin there are a number cues to the audience. The lighting changes, the conductor enters, the ushers take their places, the crowd organizes itself, shows appreciation to the performers through applause– there’s a shout of ‘bravo!’ and then it focuses its attention. You’ll hear a shush here and there to establish order, and the performance begins.

At the live simulcast of Tosca at the ballpark there were around 27,000 people from all walks of life in attendance. The cues to settle and get ready for the performance are much more subtle than in the opera house. Ballparks can accommodate highly focused attention, say the ninth ining of a no-hitter. But these venues also work well with multiple threads of activity none of which are focused on the game. As the third act begins, there are some notices in text on the high-definition Jumbotron screen and a small change in lighting.

Watch the video above and take note of how a crowd of 27,000 people can take a cue, settle down and focus their attention on the musical melodrama unfolding before them. This moment is the beginning of the third act. Scarpia is dead and Tosca has gone to save Mario from the firing squad.

As we think about the civility of the real-time social web; about how crowds self-organize for this task or that one. We can look at how civility and cooperation is established in other venues. A crowd of anonymous people understand their role and take their part in the drama. Tosca stabs the evil Scarpia, shouting “this is Tosca’s kiss!” The crowd cheers wildly as justice is portrayed. The emotions of the crowd ride the roller coaster of the bigger-than-life melodrama. No one takes Scarpia’s evil behavior as an excuse misbehave. They understand the roles of the players and the shape of the drama.

We can plainly see that a crowd can organize and police itself in real time as it takes part in the ceremony of live performance. Is it the physicality of the audience that makes the difference? Could it be possible to transfer that social contract to the live web? Or do we believe so little in the substance of our digital bodies that we think of ourselves as ghosts– neither living nor dead, immune to the judgement of our tribe.

Published in collaboration culture digital opera performance real time web zettel


  1. […] I have a lot to say on the subject, but no time at the moment. The other theme that has emerged clearly today is that we all acknowledge that our social skills offline have not yet evolved well enough into the online space, which relates back to my post about Newsgang Live. I have a lot to say about that, too, but I recommend a visit to Cliff Gerrish’s recent post on crowd behavior. […]

  2. Crowds are funny things. With the right direction they can become a single agreeable organism. Without it they can be a chaotic risk. Over management and complete freedom can have the same effect. They take on a life of their own depending on the stimulus. They bring a lot to the party themselves sometimes. This weekend we saw how history and the alignment of details became a virtual mob scene. I tend to believe that what you put into a crowd can certainly have a lot to do with the result.

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