Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Why We Celebrate: Part Three

The second group of key players in an event, participants, can be a mixture of actual owner/organizers, external and unrelated entertainers or other entities, and spectators. Their reasons are primarily psychological and commercial. From a psychological standpoint, anyone who has been a performer can understand the concept of flow. “In the flow state, action follows upon action according to an internal logic that seems to need no conscious intervention by the actor. He experiences it as a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which he is in control of his actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment, between stimulus and response, or between past, present, and future.”[i] Most performers at some point in their careers experience this. If they are highly trained, it undoubtedly occurs on a regular basis. For the performer, it is a very desirable mental state, somewhat metaphysical and even transcendental. For them, it is a feeling of wanting to remain “in the moment.”[ii]

Performers also need to have a psychological connection with the audience. This is the ultimate validation for their existence that performers seek. It means that first, the audience has indeed “received the message” (i.e. the message desired by the event owners), and second, the art form and method of delivery are appreciated. This is usually obvious to the performer through the audience’s rapt attention, sustained applause, or laughter at appropriate times. Of course, the simple commercial reason of being paid for their performance is still important to professional entertainers, and whether or not they buy into the organizer’s main reason for holding the event may be irrelevant.

Numerous modern studies have confirmed repeatedly why spectators or audiences, the third group of key players, attend public events or spectacles. These can be generally lumped into social, educational, and psychological reasons. They include the opportunity to socialize, to gain knowledge, to experience high quality art, and to be emotionally rewarded or personally fulfilled (e.g. excitement, ego enhancement). Interestingly, for those familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, these correspond almost perfectly with the higher social needs. What this means for event organizers is that although their reasons may be religious, political, social, educational, or commercial, it does not matter and the chances for a successful event are decreased unless the reasons for the audience’s attendance are matched. And they must be matched through the skillful interpretation of the main message by the participants. Since it is unlikely that human nature has changed over the centuries, audiences of other cultures and eras were likely motivated by the same reasons as audiences of today.

[i] Czikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. pp.35-36.
[ii] Matthews, D. (2008). Special Event Production: The Resources. Oxford: Elsevier Inc. pp.14-15.