This dilemma was even mentioned on America's Got Talent during their judgment week. Several performers suffered from the absence of a large audience. The judges mentioned how difficult that type of performance setting is especially on the comedians. Many acts that were amazing during their first audition fell short during this intimate setting of performing for just the four judges.
As performers, we can feel unappreciated and cheated when faced with a lifeless audience. We have put in countless hours of rehearsal. We packed and hauled all of our gear to the location. Now we are sharing our talent with an audience that doesn't see to value what they are being offered. This causes us to shut down emotionally and not tap into the experience of the performance.
However, we have to think about what the same experience may feel like from the audience's perspective. Those people were not present for our hours of practice. They did not witness us hauling and setting up the gear. They came out to hang with their friends, have a good time and be entertained. They are looking to relax, not work. If we want them to participate, we need to give them a reason. We need to pull them into the performance with the energy that we are sharing. If they perceive a lack of emotion, skill or preparation why bother listening.
Unfortunately the burden of effort between performer and audience is not equal. In the justice system an accused individual is innocent until proven guilty. In entertainment the performer is nominal until proven exceptional. Each time we perform is another opportunity to prove our worth. Unfortunately, most of these proof providing performances will be for disinterested crowds as we work our way forward. Truly successful performers find a way to be all in at every event regardless of the audience, the sound mix or any other circumstances. This level of professionalism is something I still struggle with, but I am striving to attain it.