When the agriculture exhibit came up, they decided to turn a lunchroom into an old vaudeville dinner theater style show. Students are invited to eat their lunch during a 30-minute talent show where the food is the star and agriculture is the theme. The actors sing and dance about the role agriculture plays in everyone’s lives. At the end of the show, the host invites the crowd to select the winner of the prestigious Big Yummy award.
- Leche, the host: A 4’ milk carton on a 20 foot track, Leche was able to enter from the rear of the stage, exit stage left, and stop anywhere along the way. He was made largely of fabric to allow considerable stretching
- Corn Cob Bob and Butter, the ventriloquist act:
- Tofu, the tap dancer:
- Tomato, the stunt person:
- Beans, the acrobats:
- Leftover, the blues singer:
- Hard boiled Egg, the heckler:
1) Attract their attention
Certainly this is an objective of any exhibit or attraction, but with elementary school students, it is particularly difficult to accomplish. The characters had to be something they hadn’t seen before, and they had to be believable. This situation creates something in visitors we call hindsight expectations. This occurs when an audience does not have any formed expectations before seeing something, but can immediately critique why something did or did not meet their expectations after they see it. This happens when someone sees something like a Dragon, an alien, or in this case, talking food.
For the Big Yummy characters, hindsight expectations were both a blessing and a challenge. On one hand, nobody has seen a daredevil tomato sitting in a canon before, so the audience does not have anything against which to compare the figure. Whatever the character looks like, it should be accepted by them as normal. On the other hand, because there is no existing benchmark, believability becomes very subjective. Although the audience may not have seen other stunt daredevil tomato figures, they have seen other daredevils, and they have seen other tomatoes. Items like a tomato’s color, texture, and movement, as well as a daredevil’s voice and personality must be at least loosely followed to create the suspension of disbelief for the audience (see sidebar: Suspension of Disbelief).
When the finished project is able to withstand hindsight expectations, and allow the audience to create and maintain their suspension of disbelief, and the audience is sucked into the show and the message can be delivered.
2) Hold their attention
Once the audience is sucked into the show, their attention must be held for the duration of the show. In the exhibit world, this is called holding power. Is the exhibit able to hold the attention of the visitor long enough to deliver the intended message or provide the intended experience? Given the length of this show – 30 minutes – there were several attention holding techniques used. One of the key audience holding techniques used was the reveal. The audience was never quite sure where the next character would appear. Sometimes they entered in from the side of the stage. Sometimes they rose up through the floor. Sometimes they poked through the curtain. The show could not afford to become predictable or it would not be able to hold the audience’s attention.
Another holding technique used was bouncing the audience’s attention between characters. Just like a human actor, the characters can only hold an audience’s attention for so long. Generally, the more movement a figure has, the longer it can hold the audience’s attention. And by combining figures, a Gestalt effect is created. The holding time of several characters bantering back and forth is longer than the sum of each character’s individual holding time.
For The Big Yummy there were at least three or four characters available to banter back and forth at any time. Obviously the host anchored the show, and was able to talk with the characters as the entered and exited the stage. Some of the actors were part of a team, such as the ventriloquist act and the bouncing beans. And always available to jump where the show may need a little help keeping the audience’s attention, the heckling Egg figure hollered out insults from the back of the theater.