Monday, March 9, 2009

Be The Audience

Lately my inbox has been innundated with e-mails telling me about shows that aquaintences of mine are doing. I've sent my share of those e-mails too - hoping that one or two people will come to see the hard work you have put into a show. Even moreso when it's a co-op and the only income you'll be getting is a cut of the box office. But I've noticed an interesting trend. For all these people sending invites to see shows, I don't very often see them at shows.

Last week a friend was complaining about what she saw as the cliquiness of Vancouver theatre. Her complaint was that there are all of these little groups doing theatre and they were ridiculously hard to break into. When I said that I hadn't had that problem, she suggested that it was becuase I am not an actor & therefore not the competition. But I'm not certain she has ever gone up to anyone in one of these companies and said, "Hey, I like what you're doing - how can I be a part of it?"

What strikes me about all of this is how entitled we as artists tend to seem. We want people to come to our work without us going to see theirs, we want companies to seek us out rather than taking the first step on our own.

In my experience, the theatre community in this city is very open. I've been invited to opening night parties for shows that I haven't been involved in simply becuase I struck up a conversation with someone who was involved about how much I enjoyed the show. But it requires me to take a step. I have to be at the play to be invited out after it. I have to be willing to step out in order to see things happen.

Instead I often see people (and at times myself) so caught up in what I am creating that I forget to engage with those around me and the art that they are creating. That's why my new years resolution this year was to see three shows a month. Last year I averaged two, and I figured I wanted and in fact needed to see more than that if I wanted to be a part of the community and I needed to be the audience if I wanted to talk about theatre in this city in any sort of responsible way.

I'd put this forward as a challenge to other artists: See a show this week that doesn't have anyone you know in it. Approach an artist whose work you admire & let them know. Ask someone for a tour - the worst they can say is no. Ask questions. And take some time to create something new - a character, a poem, a script, a set design idea - just sit town and do something.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant post!
I completely agree with you. I try and see everything pro/semi-pro that comes out in Ottawa for many reasons: I want the community to grown and thrive, which means bums in seats, including my own; I want to know who else is doing stuff and what it is because how else am I suppose to know what to get involved in; I want to support my colleagues (though it would be nice if they supported me too); I like to be able to have an opinion on the shows being nominated for the Rideau Awards; ect.

But yes, my question to everyone who says it's difficult definitely is how do you expect to get in if you're not supportive of what they do?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely wonderful post. I think this trend happens all over. In San Diego, I get e-mails all the time begging me to see people's shows, but only a fraction actually comes and see mine. I think that we DO need to be less "cliquey" and more open. I really try to include everyone who walks in the door of my theatre and appreciate them for what they can bring to the process. My current show has about 80% new people involved in it and the influx of new blood has been wonderful. We need to go out and meet our fellow artists and engage them. They can help us and we can help them.

lindsay said...

This is something that drove me crazy when I lived in Toronto. The theatre going audience seemed to be such an inside club filled with people in the know, actors who knew each other and those on stage, and worse, actors trying to get hired by the director of the show. There's nothing more maddening than listening to the 'look I'm laughing at your show, love me HIRE ME!' reaction.

SMLois said...

At the same time we can't be vindictive in what we see. Saying "He didn't see my show so I'm not going to see his" robs all of us. It has to be about being a community rather than getting the next gig or any of that.

NJK - I think you're right with your "how do you expect to get in if you're not supportive of what they do?" I know that this field is always competitive, but if its ONLY ever competitive and never supportive, there would never be new companies sprouting up.

Theatricalmusings - I find working with new people exhilarating both because I get to meet them and becuase the network they bring with them is a huge influx of energy for a production. If my same 10 friends who come to see everything I do were the only 10 to ever come, it'd be a sad day. But when my 10 meet with the 20 who come to see any given actor, they grow as a community and the show is given new life.

Lindsay - We have to find a way to stop being an insiders club and reach out. I'm not sure what that looks like exactly. How do we connect to the audience off stage that draws them into community? And I don't mean this from a marketing standpoint.