Audience participation – and I’m talking specifically about the practice of involving audience members in the plot, eliciting dialogue from them or bringing them onto stage -- has always annoyed me, both as a performer and an audience member. For one, it always feels especially lazy. Unable to solve some problem inherent to the story, an actor / writer will simply break the fourth wall; unable to come up with a satisfying comedic sketch, performers will simply drag an audience member onto stage. Invariably it destroys the tension / comedy in the script because it reminds us the conflict / situation isn’t real.
Pre-show stage business – having an actor on stage “in character” while the audience arrives – is a much more serious problem. Audience participation is a nuisance but pre-show stage business has the potential to become a serious ethical crime. Consider a play from the writer’s perspective. The writer has chosen to begin the play at a certain point; she has carefully selected the moment when the audience should be introduced to the characters and the world of the play. To introduce us to the characters at an earlier point in the plot is to assert your own vision: you are, in essence, re-writing the play.