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What is a Claque?

A claque is a group of people hired to applaud or react positively during a performance, artificially boosting a show's energy and audience response. This practice, dating back to 19th-century French theaters, manipulates genuine reception. But does it still exist in modern entertainment? Discover how the claque's covert influence might be shaping your cultural experiences. What do you think?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A claque is a group of people which is paid to applaud during a performance. The use of claques has largely fallen out of favor in modern theaters, concert halls, and opera houses, but they were at one time quite widespread, especially in the 19th century. The term is also sometimes used to describe a large group of admirers who follow politicians and other major public figures.

The concept of a claque is ancient. Roman emperors, for example, used soldiers to swell the crowds for speeches, with the soldiers being instructed to cheer loudly when the emperor emerged. Claques also guided the audiences of Greek plays, and they were never really absent from performance halls, but in the 19th century, the claque was refined to an art form, with members of the claque guiding the audience, showing them when to laugh, applaud, or cry.

Claques were paid to applaud at concerts or other performances.
Claques were paid to applaud at concerts or other performances.

The term “claque” is French for “handclap,” betraying the French origins of the highly evolved 19th century claque, which was led by a chef de claque who would have been extremely familiar with the work. Many claques prided themselves on their research of the pieces they were hired to promote. The members of the claque would also be smoothly integrated into the audience, ensuring even distribution to reduce suspicion.

Rieurs would laugh at appropriate moments in the performance, while pleureurs would cry; many of the pleureurs would be women, who might find themselves without handkerchiefs, requiring assistance from an innocent bystander. Bisseurs would call for an encore at the end of a performance, while commissaires were hired to point out particularly interesting or notable points in the piece to the people around them. Together, the members of the claque would ensure an enthusiastic audience response to a performance.

Claques began to fall out of favor towards the end of the 19th century, when a new trend of respectful, quiet audiences began to emerge. In performances today, applause in the middle of a performance tends to be frowned upon, along with exaggerated responses to events in the performance. However, it is not unheard of for theatres to stock the seats in a performance which has not sold out with friends of the theatre, and these friends may act as a more subdued form of the classical claque.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a claque, and how did it originate?

A claque is a group of people hired to attend performances and manipulate audience reactions through applause, laughter, or other means. The practice originated in ancient Rome but became institutionalized in 19th-century Paris. Claqueurs were organized by a leader known as a 'chef de claque,' who coordinated their activities to enhance the atmosphere of the performance and influence public opinion.

Why would a performance use a claque?

Performances use claques to guarantee a positive reception, which can be crucial for the success of a new play, opera, or performer. A strong audience reaction can enhance the experience for genuine patrons, creating a bandwagon effect that encourages further positive responses. This can lead to increased ticket sales, critical acclaim, and the overall popularity of the production or artist.

Is the use of a claque considered ethical in the performing arts community?

The use of a claque is controversial and often viewed as unethical because it manipulates genuine audience reaction and can mislead the public about the quality of a performance. However, some argue that it is just another tool in the entertainment industry, akin to modern practices like paid promotions and marketing strategies designed to shape public perception.

Are claques still used in modern performances?

While the traditional form of a claque has largely fallen out of favor, some argue that modern equivalents exist, such as 'seat fillers' at award shows or paid online reviewers. The essence of the claque, influencing audience perception through orchestrated means, persists in various forms, although it is less overt and organized than in the past.

How did audiences typically react to the presence of a claque?

Audiences have had mixed reactions to the presence of a claque. Some regular theatergoers and critics disapproved of the practice, seeing it as deceptive and a distortion of genuine artistic merit. However, others may have been unaware of the claque's presence or simply enjoyed the heightened atmosphere it created, contributing to a more vibrant and engaging performance experience.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MusicalExpert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MusicalExpert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon189245

A modern day Claque exists at Claque Theatre where you can be become a Claquer.

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    • Claques were paid to applaud at concerts or other performances.
      By: lullabi
      Claques were paid to applaud at concerts or other performances.