Volunteer theory 2

19 02 2016

Yesterday I wrote about six reasons to use a volunteer and gave an example of a show where a volunteer was not used effectively. Today I will show you the opposite. 

This is Frostbite Theatre’s Cryo Show and if the link doesn’t work search YouTube for “Frostbite Theatre Liquid Nitrogen Show”. Watch it from the start until the first set of volunteers have finished helping out at 4:14.

Excellent volunteer work is characterised by their carrying out a useful role, their involvement should elicit positive emotions and they should add to the drama. 

This is excellent volunteer work and we can examine it looking at our six reasons to use a volunteer. Volunteers should be at least one of the following: extra pair of hands; naive actor; eliciting empathy; increasing jeopardy; reacting; providing a different voice.

The reason this works so well is at different times they are almost all of those things. 

Two children (naive actors) have volunteered to put their hands into the liquid nitrogen (jeopardy)!

The presenter expertly minimises the cost of using volunteers by using the time it takes for them to put protective gear on to establish the qualities of his flowers with the audience. He also ensures they get ready to the side so they are not a distraction

He uses more volunteers in the front row to confirm the flowers are real (naive actors) before explaining that if the flowers are OK in the liquid nitrogen then he’ll “make the children” put their hands inside the dewar (increased jeopardy). 

You can see an example of the cost in time of using volunteers as he has to go and help them get ready but he covers this by being friendly and jokes with them. His positive and friendly attitude here towards the volunteers will be shared by the audience (empathy).

Then the volunteers are invited to choose a flower and join him at the table. Watch at 1:35 how the girl moves to the table. She is so excited and happy she skips!

Because of empathy the audience will be sharing her joy. Because they are feeling that joy they will be paying close attention to what comes next.

The presenter gives clear instructions (to avoid the cost of her messing up which would be a distraction) and she dips her flower. At that moment the audience can imagine being her (empathy). She represents them. And then she reacts looking into the dewar. 

The focus on this dewar at this moment is perfect. The volunteer is bringing much more to this than if the presenter had done it himself even though so far the volunteers haven’t been strictly necessary- he could have done this all himself. 

Once the flower comes out of the nitrogen the real task of the volunteers becomes clear. He asks the volunteer to crush the flower (naive actor and extra pair of hands) and gives her the perfect opportunity to react

The only reason to use a volunteer out of the six he doesn’t employ is to have them speak to be a different voice. He could have asked the volunteer to tell everyone if the flower was still soft or to describe what it sounded like but really this was not necessary (and perhaps impossible given the background noise).

But what about the other volunteer? His presence is justified, he is being used usefully, because as scientists we need to repeat our findings.

Listen in the background as the second volunteer crushes his flower…

you can hear the audience members saying (at 3:25) “wow” and “oh my god”. They are feeling empathy for the volunteer and are sharing his reaction of amazement and joy. This makes the audience much more connected to the demo, it’s as if they are doing it themselves, and that’s the power of empathy.

The piece ends with an explanation of the similarities between flowers and humans. We have learned it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to put their hands in the bucket of nitrogen and they are sent back to their seats. 

As we said at the start excellent volunteer work is characterised by their carrying out a useful role, their involvement should elicit positive emotions and they should add to the drama. In this piece they do all three and as such the round of applause they receive from the audience is real and genuine.  

Now not everyone would have done this demo this way and that’s OK.

Using the six reasons to use a volunteer isn’t meant to stamp out identical performers and demos but I think it gives us a very useful framework to examine how effective volunteers use is across widely differing performing styles.

This isn’t perfect, we can all improve. For instance the boy is isolated on stage whilst the girl dips her flower. 
Perhaps he could have been invited to “come and see”. And the presenter doesn’t ask (at least we don’t hear him use) the volunteers’ names. I will discuss this choice in a future post. 

Overall I think this is an excellent example and just as with the last post I’d love to hear what you think. 



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