Do you know why theatre rocks?
Of course you do, you’ve found your way to a theatre blog on the overwhelmingly crowded internet. Whatever that answer is to you is the greatest marketing tool you’ve got. All you’ve got to do is spread that reason all over town.
Why do I think theatre rocks?
We’re accessible by nature. Our art is drenched in the image of accessibility. It is, in fact, the single most accessible art form. That is its great strength. Out of all the art out there, we let our audience into the thing, invite them to be part of the thing. This is, I’m becoming more and more convinced every day, the greatest weapon in our marketing arsenal. I believe we must nurture this image, encourage it, let it become the product. We, consumers that we are, want to connect directly to that which moves us, to the things and experiences that elicit an emotional reaction. It’s why our society worships at the church of Celebrity, and movie stars feel compelled to invent fake names to stay at hotels. Kooks included, we want to express ourselves to our artists, to connect to their art directly, to say thank you. And within the theatre they’re right there in our midst. Fortunately, independent theatre doesn’t attract the kooky stalker set. Yet.
During the run of our last production I hosted a small reception for the audience every night, to which they were always invited. I set out a table of cheese and deli meat and crackers, veggies, that kind of thing (I love you, Costco), and tended a full bar. The company had agreed going in that they would make themselves available to their audience for a certain amount of time post show, and to my neverending amazement and wonder, all 12 of them did. Every night. Shook hands and answered questions and had drinks bought for them…we were all humbled and amazed by it. And our audiences seemed to be too. It gave them all shared ownership of the experience, and it was absolutely stunning to watch.
All participants, together in a room, celebrating the event. This is what theatre offers. This is why it rocks.
I’ve seen other examples of this philosophy lately that’s made my heart jump. Consider this post from the blog of the ever-inspiring Chicago-based New Leaf Theatre. It details their decision to continue the rehearsal process for a play they had developed as a company after opening and invite the public in to watch.
We started rehearsals, as we always do, with the ensemble performing their opening ritual – a simple exercise in a circle. We revisited one of the building blocks we’d used over the course of rehearsals when Jess led the group in a Viewpoints exercise. (Some of the audience had never seen or heard of Viewpoints before, and they were kind of amazed.) About half of the audience hadn’t seen the full production yet, but since the story is so episodic, we decided that didn’t matter. We chose two scenes to focus on, and ran them with lights and sound to give our newbies a reference point. And then we got to work.
We picked apart moments, cleared up some traffic patterns, strengthened some choices, made some new discoveries. We made actual changes to blocking, to interpretation, and those changes showed up on Friday and Saturday nights.
We invited the audience to join us in our closing exercise, and they all did.
This is utterly mind-blowing to me. The generosity and fearlessness and inclusivity to their community of this idea is brilliant, what better way to make your audience, or potential audience, feel like a part of the company, to feel invested in your future? Note that they kept the process closed during the development of the piece, inviting civilians into the early process of creation would be a fly in the ointment, no doubt. But the show was up and running, it was deemed a saleable product, and they were allowing witnesses into the maintenance of the piece. It was an honest declaration of the opinion that theatre is always in process. Lovely.
And how’s this for theatre nerd porn? The New York Times ran a behind-the-scenes piece on Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy The Norman Conquests, which includes slide shows and short audio clips from all aspects of the production, from actors to props master to costumer to carpenter to usher to audience members…how cool and compelling and easy is this to put together?
This is one of the ideas that inspired me to buy a Flip Camera. And, I suppose, it’s this idea that compels us to blog. I believe this is how we need to brand ourselves: as the accessible emotional experience. It’s going to require some ego-killing, but it could pave the way to making Independent Stage the most talked about experience in town.
What do you think? Can we trade in the old tropes of ‘theatre magic’ for a new paradigm of honest human communion?
Image courtesty of Flickr user joewhk