This is an interesting little blog that raises a thought-provoking question. This is the paragraph that got me thinking: “The model of artistic directors or curators operating in a vacuum to develop programming and then handing it off to the rest of the staff to ‘sell,’ whether or not it ever served arts organizations well, is no longer a healthy approach. It’s the interaction between the arts and communities that give the arts the most meaning and can best justify the resources required. Artistic directors/curators have arts expertise, but that’s only one element of the equation.”
I realize that I actually don’t know much about how Twin Cities theaters go about choosing their seasons. I imagine it’s some combination of directors pitching shows they’d like to direct, artistic directors and their immediate circle of advisors seeing and reading plays, and the money people playing with their abacuses (abaci?) and crystal balls to say yay or nay. Or maybe it’s something else (or more things) entirely. In any case, I don’t think there’s a lot of community involvement in the process.
What would it look like if there were? Is it at all feasible? At some point, a ship needs a captain, and art by committee has a lot of potential to be blandsville as everyone’s tastes are accommodated to the point of flavorlessness. But I don’t know--what if one show slot per season were put up to a public vote online, or there was some kind of American Idol-esque process by which audience members could advocate for the show/story/script/performers they’d like to see more of? The collaboration between the Fringe and the Dowling Studio dabbled in that with the remounting of the top-selling shows from each Fringe venue. Is there room for more of that? How? Where? Is there a big enough demographic of audience members who care enough to participate in season curation (not including the theater artists in town, who might find it difficult to distinguish between work opportunities for themselves and what they’d like to see)? Food for thought.
This was another interesting piece in The Guardian, that explores the variations in audience response as a factor of how much any given crowd paid for their seats. The upshot seems to be that those who pay the highest ticket prices make for the most expressive and appreciative audience members (perhaps because, for what they paid, they’re determined to have a good time), while those who come to reduced-price performances or buy discount tickets are harder to please. The exception is audience members (generally friends and family) who are given comps for nights when a boisterous response is particularly important (i.e. previews and opening night).
This made me think about industry night performances--the one or two Monday night shows that most local productions include in order to allow fellow theater folks with weekend obligations of their own to attend (and which are also usually pay-what-you-can nights). My experience with industry night performances has been consistent with the article’s thesis. Oftentimes, audiences predominantly made up of theater industry folks seem to exude a bit more of a quiet, judgey, appraising, we-might-laugh-but-we’re-going-to-make-you-work-for-it kind of vibe than the more loose, open, came-to-have-a-good-time vibe of less professionally homogenous audiences. In many ways, it makes sense--someone with culinary school training or years of cooking experience is going to be a more critical diner than your average Joe (which is why I’ll never cook for John Middleton).
What do you think--are “theater people” harsher audience members? Do you look forward to your shows’ industry night performances with eagerness, wariness, or both? Do you think we industry folks could stand to be more mindfully generous as audience members?
Current Minnesota Playlist guest editor Ira Brooker wrote this article musing about whether it's possible to take delight in bad theater the same way we do with "transcendentally bad" movies and TV shows (the sneak preview of the season premiere of "Smash" is on Hulu, by the way, and it's delicious). While it's not a direct correlation, I do think a lot of us go see theater in town with a little of that "hate-watching" impulse lurking in the background--looking gleefully for things to criticize and judge. It's probably just the nature of consuming the work of others in your field, and I'm certainly not innocent of it, but I think it's worth being aware of and guarding against.
Kumbaya and Namaste.
Probably the biggest news story in the local theater world this week is that State senator Barbara Goodwin (D) has introduced a bill that would ban Minnesota theaters from using real cigarettes in their productions. This Star Tribune article has more information on the proposed legislation, which would close a loophole in the current indoor smoking ban in the state of Minnesota that allows smoking in theatrical productions.
As always, the comments are one of the most interesting aspects of the article. This one by “gonjgov” seemed salient (maybe because I just saw "Long Day’s Journey Into Night"): “When are they going to go after alcohol as they are smoking? Isn't alcohol just as detrimental to society as tobacco?” The difference, of course, is that drinking onstage is (ostensibly) simulated, whereas real cigarettes smoked onstage produce real smoke inhaled by real audience members.
The legislation seems misguided to me. I have a hard time believing that an actor smoking a cigarette or two onstage is causing massive health problems across the state that warrant government intervention, but maybe I’m wrong. And maybe the work wouldn’t suffer from actors smoking fake cigs any more than it does from actors drinking fake booze, but it still feels a little puritanical to me. We’ll see how far the bill gets. If you feel strongly about it one way or the other, let your legislators know.
Did you know that the Ivey Awards’ website posts a list every week of which shows are closing and opening that weekend? Check it out.
And of course the handy Minnesota Playlist performance calendar has a list of everything happening onstage on every night of the month. Get out there and see some theater, people.
‘Til next week...