Coales' Notes: The pleasure principle: Gordon Coales tries an experiment in audience participation

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The Independent Culture
WEDNESDAY Somehow, I am putting myself over all wrong. I have already managed to antagonise Di, I suppose through falling asleep so often last week. And I had hoped my new suit would make a compensatory impression.

We had a planner this morning, and discussed the 'Ars Longa Report on the Arts and their Audiences', and specifically the committee: no fee offered as such, but plenty of food and freebies, plus a unique opportunity to be self-important. The usual kind of suspects to be drummed up - one academic, one celeb, one 'person involved at the creative end' etc.

Then it turned awkward. Rory urged that the public itself be represented, and Di said: 'Obviously what would be perfect would be to get hold of one of these people who go to a concert every night of their lives.'

I agreed that this was a good idea in theory, but wasn't someone who goes to a concert every night of their lives likely to be, in the nicest possible sense, a bit unhinged?

Di said: 'Come on, you could say the same thing about critics.' I said the difference was that critics were paid to go.

She replied: 'Oh I see. So if you do it for money that's OK. But if you do it for nothing, you're mad.'

I said, naturally - just as with any other job one could think of.

She said: 'Well some people might argue, in theory, that listening to music was supposed to be a pleasurable activity.'

I find that, more and more, I am overlooking this aspect of the arts. I quickly backed down and agreed to get an 'every- nighter' on to the committee.

Later she said to me: 'Try not to knock the public, Gordon. It's just so subsidised.' Unkind.

THURSDAY I have been supplied with a list of these eccentric people. Not much success, except with a man called Jarvis, who said he was 'most interested to represent the general public'. He would be at a performance of Carousel at the National Theatre tomorrow, if I cared to join him. It turned out there was not a single ticket to be had, but Rory somehow managed to wangle one from the box office - which I am to treat as gold dust.

FRIDAY A revelatory evening. Standing in the foyer of the National Theatre an important truth suddenly came over me: how much I dislike being a member of an audience. And I think this is perhaps a psychological phenomenon of which the arts have never taken sufficient account. One surveys one's fellow audience members and one wants to cry out: Please, don't presume that I have come here hell-bent on enjoying myself. Don't imagine I am credulously following the reviews. Don't think that I've been looking forward to this outing for the last month. I am an individual, with a mind of my own.

I heard a voice say: 'Mr Coales?' I looked up. The man said: 'Well, you're a miserable- looking bastard, aren't you?' I told him he'd caught me at an off-moment. He said: 'Well, makes a change. I mean, look at them - what a collection.'

He singled out a lady studying her programme with extreme fascination. 'I sat next to that one during An Inspector Calls, and I can assure you, she had not the faintest notion of what was going on. At the end of the show, she turned to her companion and said: So - the policeman did it] Just like in the other one] Half of them simply shouldn't be allowed in a theatre.'

Then he pointed out various other 'regular customers', and we managed to work ourselves up so much that we went out to a restaurant instead. I can see this Jarvis as a valuable ally.

But I have been desperately going through the papers trying to get some sort of impression of the show, because they're bound to ask on Monday.

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