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A Science Show Audience Guide

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An Introduction to Crowd Control

The science theatre can be a dangerous place. Between the tens of millions of volts leaping out of a Tesla coil, the hand-bleaching acetone and the neurotic theatre coordinator, theatre demonstrators have more than enough to worry about before they even leave their house in the morning (except for that last part, I hope). Science is a perilous enough activity without adding the general (ie. uneducated, unwashed, untagged, etc…) public to the beaker. Compounding matters by adding an audience is just asking for trouble.

It is therefore in the interests of science theatre demonstrators everywhere that I have compiled this list. While a full course in crowd control is well beyond the scope of someone who once tried to strangle their own lab partner with a spectroscope, this outline should serve as a reasonable starting point for large-scale behavioural modifcation tactics.

The Rattler (mean age: 8–12 years)

Science is, I must say, pretty exciting. I think so, and odds are that if someone’s in a science centre then they think so too. The Rattler, however, is SO excited that they absolutely have to be in this next theatre show right now and OH MY GOD WHY WON’T THE DOOR OPEN WHY WHY WHY!?

You get the picture. The Rattler epitomises impatience and will often not even wait until the scheduled show time to start rattling the door, thus annoying the devil out of anyone within who may be trying to prepare (or is waiting for a booked group, or trying to enjoy a quiet nap).

Tactics: A gentle blast from a taser will teach the precious little scamp the virtue of patience (also the virtues of silence, humility and involuntary twitching).

The Deliquent (mean age: 4–9 years)

This should be pretty self-explanatory. The Deliquent will annoy everyone in the theatre by being loud, rude, contrary and disruptive. No amount of heckling from the demonstrator nor any amount of scowling from the audience will even remotely dampen the antics of this most despised theatre attendee.

Tactics: Assert your authority with a long, cold stare …of 150kV of TASER BRAND electrical potential.

The Spoiler (mean age: 8–12 years)

Often also a pathological Rattler, this approval junkie absolutely has to call the outcome of every single demonstration you do, thus rendering it that little bit less spectacular. More than just annoying, The Spoiler partly undermines the point of the show in the first place — pre-empting a nifty trick completely negates the effect of impressing people with science demonstrations.

Tactics: Requires fast action. Immediately upon hearing the wailing prelude to yet another spoiler (Oh yeah, this is that thing where…), administer one serving of everybodies favourite non-lethal electrical stun device.

(…that’s a taser, for those not yet on board.)

The Birthday Group (mean age: 5–11 years… and one day)

This is basically The Deliquent at critical mass — a group of children so hyped up by sugar and the sheer excitement of the progression of time that their energy intensity compares to that at the surface of a neutron star. They are loud, they are disruptive, they can be outright dangerous, and their parents refuse to do anything to help.

Tactics: Taser… the parent. It has no real effect on the kids, but it’s quicker and infinitely more satisfying.

The Reticent Volunteer (mean age: 7–8 years)

Selecting an audience helper is one of the finer skills a theatre demonstrator has to hone. They must be compliant enough to do as they’re told, responsible enough not to drink a beaker full of copper sulfate, and in some cases they must even be the right size and shape. Making this judgement call with several dozen kids waving their hands in the air is harder still, and may lead to the rare but dreaded Reticent Volunteer.

This child refuses to do anything — not out of defiance or idiocy, but out of sheer petrifying fear. (I don’t understand what’s so scary about standing on stage in a tutu in front of 160 people with an overexuberant demonstrator to one side and a giant van der Graaf generator to the other — we’ve all been there before.) This can cause a real break in the flow of the show, and tends to induce embarrassment in the audience too.

Tactics: Resist all urges to scream WHY WOULD YOU PUT YOUR HAND UP IF YOU DON’T WANT TO GO IN THE CAGE!? and get them on board with a light-hearted tickle from Mister Taser.

The School Group (mean age: 13–15 years)

The School Group is the surly, unenthused counter to The Birthday Group. Even if they’re interested, they sure as hell aren’t going to let anyone know — and heaven forbid one of them should actually show some excitement. It’s like performing to a bunch of lobotomised, drooling, simpering laboratory test monkeys, right down to having to pick fleas out of the seat cushions after they leave.

Tactics: Target the most popular kid. By most popular, I mean most conductive… and by target, I mean taser.

The Infant (mean age: 0–2 years)

It is beyond my understanding as to why a parent would see fit to bring an infant — unable to walk, talk or maintain bladder control — to a science show. The science theatre is no place for babies. There are loud sudden noises, periods of darkness, strange smells and (to distinguish this from my attempts at a dinner party) a presenter of dubious moral fibre (okay, maybe it is the same). Besides, who would ever, ever want to risk their babies first words being sodium polyacrylate?

Tactics: Use discretion here.

The Talker (mean age: 40–55)

There is just something inordinately more infuriating about this particular type of audience member. Is it the fact that everyone else is forced to listen to their banal conversation instead of the most awesome science show they (would) have even seen? Is it because they are so self-absorbed that they completely miss your meaningful glances? Or could it be simply that as adults they should know better?

Tactics: Okay, look — by now, you may be forgiven for thinking that I’m just applying the same silly solution to every problem that crops up in my theatre. But let me say this: such a level of rudeness, of contempt, of SHEER UNADULTERATED BLIND IDIOCY is EXACTLY what the taser was MADE FOR. Do NOT hold back on the talker, for there is NOTHING about them that rapid bursts of electricity will not improve. Thank you.

I hope that this guide comes in handy at some point (possibly as evidence submitted to a pre-trial hearing, but you never know). I would have made an equipment list, but it was too short to even qualify as, let alone warrant being, a list.