Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Post-Show Discussions

Contributor Shepsu Aakhu left this comment about post-show discussions in response to a note in The Reveal. I include it in its own post in hopes that more people will see it.

You asked so here we go.

For the purpose of this response I will concern myself only with the post-show discussions that often accompany readings/stagings of new work. Not those that exist as "talk backs" following actual production performances.

The post-show discussion exists in two worlds. The first world --and it should go without saying the world that I am most interested in-- is the world that concerns itself with the needs of the playwright. It is a unique opportunity for the playwright to actually hear what an audience thinks/believes/ holds dear etc. instead of intuiting that information. This is extremely valuable information (more on that later).

The second is the world of marketing and promotions. The theater that hosted the reading and subsequent "Post-show discussion" is in the business of cultivating an audience for new work. Therefore the theater wants to get the audience to believe in/support this play, and ultimately all plays that the theater wishes to develop/produce.

Here is were the the collective nod and wink occur. People like to believe they are intelligent --and knowledgeable about just about everything. In truth we are often only one of these but seldom both at the same time ( I know- another essay for another time). The post-show discussion is where the theater says to the patron "you matter" and so we want to hear what you think. (This is a truth)- and if it stopped there -no harm done. But the nod and wink come in when "we allow" the perception that the patron is directly helping to create/shape the work. That we are in fact in partnership in developing this work.

The patrons ego often seeks this validation, and the theater rarely sees an upside to modifying this assumption.

Back to the "first world". What is valuable for the playwright? In practical terms in each play the playwright has created an elaborate manipulation of the audience. How they should feel at any given moment? What are they anticipating and when? Have they invested enough to suspend disbelief? Are they wrestling with the greater questions of the work while they are watching it, or does that come later?

The "post-show" is where you hear the answers to these questions? This is where you discover if "they" (The Audience) feel what you wanted them to feel when you wanted them to feel it? Was I clear enough? Are the connections being made? Are they fulfilled? Does the work aspire to be "fulfilling"?

These are the playwrights questions? None of the answers require you to personally sit on the stage and be "interesting" and "emotionally available" to the theater patron(s). If however you enjoy that kind of thing- go for it.

Problems with the dichotomy for the playwright

When a playwrights seeks validation from the audience s/he is no longer looking to see what worked and why? Or even what did not and why? They are now concerned with "Do they like it/me". This is ultimately a toxic place to reside. They don't know you (usually), so they're opinion about you/ your work carries no value beyond what you assign it.

The question of do they like the work seems valid, but it too comes from the needs of the ego. The Manipulation (The play) has a purpose-- A collective experience. When that collective experience is introspective/ or profoundly mind expanding , perhaps even refreshing insightful we might even call it "art".

The point of success in this "Art" is ultimately a question of have you-- the playwright- gotten the audience to where you wanted them to be when you wanted them to be there. (whether they describe that place as enjoyable, fun etc is only relevant when fun was "your" goal.

As a playwright you have to learn to listen for the evidence of the relative success or failure of the Manipulation. This success should be based upon what the work aspires to be. This is the only valid criteria. What do you want this work to do/be? Not what does some one else want it to be.

If it aspires to be a political thriller, and the audience member sounds disappointed that it wasn't a romantic comedy, you can safely assume that you are being evaluated on what they (the patron) wants for your work, and not what you want for your work.

In this area only one opinion matters. What does the artist want for their work. If you don't want it, it shouldn't happen.

If the play is missing points of view that a patron wanted but are not part of what the work calls for, encourage the patron to begin writing their on plays since they have no shortage of ideas. (On second thought don't do that it might piss off those theater folk that were kind enough to stage your reading.)

Problems with the dichotomy for the Theater/Audience.

We have touched on the notion that the audience has an opinion and a reaction to your work. And they are entitled to one. Hell they have even been encouraged to openly discuss their responses. This does not however empower the audience to become your co writer, or for that matter to tap how "true to your life" the work is.

Few theaters will correct this behavior. And it's unreasonable to expect that the patrons have studied Liz Lerman's technique on critical response.

So in the end the patrons get to feel smart and creative, and the playwright gets to sift through all of that bull to get to the heart of the matter. How effective was/is "The Manipulation (play).

Now the short version:

Post-shows mostly suck, but there is some useful info for you if you can get past all the people telling you what you should have written.

Listen better and develop a thick skin.


David Moore said...

Oops... went directly to Shepsu's comment in your "The Reveal" post, and left my comment there.

Hmmm... having a hard time remembering where I am in the blogosphere, lately. Is there a GPS system for this?

Anonymous said...

From POOKIE (Getting this password thing was driving me crazy.)

I just picked up from your David Moore's) response at the reveal post.

You can't hold back. Say what has to said. As you said it's only one opinion.

In my experience it's not a good idea for young playwrights to answer questions or sit on the stage. It mearly allows for conflict if the playwright is at all defensive about their work.

That said.

Say what you have to say. It's the playwrights job to sort it all out later. Some of us have delayed hearing, but we do in fact hear it.

On to a lesser point. Don't assume that you are making some deep revelation that the playwright has not considered.

I can tell you from experience that there is a big difference between knowing that something is broken-- and having the slightest clue about how to fix it.

In such cases it is often best to leave it alone until soimething comes to you. Occassionally that "something" comes during a "talk back" when one is likely to hear all manner of criticisms.

And then suddenly the writer has a clue of what to do, and the tinkering begins anew.

Treat us like adults. Most of us maquerade as such for at least a few minutes each day.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?