Saturday, February 7, 2009

You going to pay for that?

I literally wrote most of this post a year ago and only stumbled upon it now. Whoops. I think it is still mostly relevant.

Art and capitalism. Two subjects that have been dominating my conversation lately and with fascinating results. Part of this conversation was played out in a previous post about new work, but I felt like it really deserved a post of its own.

Art is not a natural fit with capitalism. First off, capitalism is about the individual, and Art, particularly Theatre, is about a community. (Does Hamlet die if there is no one there to see him?) Capitalism thrives on consumerism, an exchange of goods and/or services. Art is a different kind of exchange but in a land without subsidy, Art needs your money to happen.

Art invites you to participate, in fact, it needs you to participate to function. The story of a book exists more in your mind than on the page. A book sitting on your shelf doesn't "tell you" what its about - you have to read it, you have to engage with it, participate in it to get the story. Why would this be any different in theatre, where a live audience sits in close proximity to the action on stage?

Theatre requires an audience to be sitting up, to be paying attention, to be engaged. Paula Vogel once said the play isn't what happens on stage, but what happens between the stage and the audience. So, if a play isn't working, it might not just be what's on stage. Part of schism is the theatre's own fault. As a friend of mine pointed out, we don't encourage people to yell at the stage anymore. We usually have the house lights out and expect everyone to watch in respectful silence.

I'm not suggesting throwing rotten fruit and veg is entirely the way to go. But OFTEN I have had the experience (and most often in America) that an audience just sits there, almost combative. "Come on," you can hear their brains' taunting, "just try and entertain me." That production is not going to be enjoyable for anyone. It's understandable. If you just dropped $80 of your hard-earned cash, you want to get $80 of experience - whatever that means to you. But don't you want that to be a good experience? Do you expect it to be good if you dropped a meaningful amount of money?

I guess for some people, a good time is being unhappy. More importantly, this is why art transcends a standard commercial model. Ok, that's elitist and fundamental to the objection Republicans have to the art. I think it is also true. It's why art is subsidized pretty much everywhere but here. Can we get on that, Mr. O?

4 comments:

Action Bob Markle said...

hey, stumbled on this...nice blog...keep it up...

yeah, i think we should yell more in a theater...my dog once watched a rehearsal then trotted up on stage and bit an actor...not hard, just hard enough to tell him to get with it...

there's in implicit agreement i have with an audience...give me energy, and i'll give you what i got...i've been short-thrifted more than once by an audience who just doesn't get that theater is not a spectator sport...

w0lf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
w0lf said...

As a turg do you ever consider how a show production was originally felt by the audience in terms of getting them warmed up? What I mean to say is that, in many live media (Music, Stand-up, Sport, Auction) there is often a great deal of attention paid to how audiences are prepared to be excited by the main event.

In theater, there is usually a fire safety/cell phone speech, but more often than not its the first scene itself that is burdened with the job of getting the audience into the mood. That's not to say other efforts don't happen. From my personal experience, I always remembered Animus Ensemble handing out candy and doing a high energy show introduction, and randomly I recall Sesame Street live having a big bird voice recording prepping all the kids on how to be quiet and respectful during the performance.

So what I'm circumlocuting here is: are there historical models for warming an audience that you are familiar with that producers and/or directors today could get more out of, OR have the ways in which audiences reacted to those efforts changed significantly in the last 20/50/100/1000 years?

Turg Talker said...

Thanks for your comments both. I think this merits a follow-up post.