LOVE SONG, many of us have a familiar sinking feeling in our stomachs that it seems is somewhat universal when it comes to putting on theater in New York.
Strangely enough, it's got nothing to do with the show. We're scared to do it, certainly - but I've put my acting career on the line enough times to know that if I get slammed or praised, my ego might react for a little while, but it's probably not going to appreciably change my life. We may not make our money back, but it wouldn't be the first time - and we've promised six plays this year. Heck, we just sold a bunch of season tickets to those plays. So, we're committed.
What many of us are most scared of is alienating our friends when we ask them to come.
If I tell my friends that I want them to see my show, then they tend to hear one of two things:
1.) I want everyone to come see ME and support ME and look at ME and love ME!
2.) I think of them as walking dollar signs - because I'm a producer on the project.
Here's the problem: I have to market to people or they won't know about the show. The world doesn't revolve around me, so we have to remind people that we really want them to come - or they don't. I just missed a dear friend's show that I was dying to see, because he only told me once. Surely, no offense is meant when we reach out a second or third or tenth time. In marketing, it takes 7-10 times for anyone to take notice. I've found that it's not a much better average with our peers. We all lead busy lives. We forget easily. And in fact, I only come to my friends' shows when they let me know that they want me there. Simply mentioning it is not enough. I want to know that they stand behind their work. I want to know it means something to them. Why? Because that means that it's better or I'm going to like it more? No. Because I know that they have something to share.
I know I get confused when I reach out to my friends and get a response as though I've harassed them. It's heartbreaking to tell someone how important they are to you and be met with, "Yeah, I heard you the first time." Or "I've already supported you this year." Partially, I get that response because we're in our fourth season. But it goes deeper than that. We live in a commercial city, and unfortunately we seem to have bought into the idea that Art is either a commodity or a favor. It makes us sad.
The thing is, I'll bet that most of us are not looking to impress anyone. Personally, it feels good when people like my work. It feels even better when people like The Seeing Place Theater's work - and I mean that. But more than anything, we all kill ourselves bringing something to life. And then we birth it for three weeks and it's done. I want to share it with the people I care about. And after the show is over for the night, I want to spend time with the people that came. Because theater is (and always has been) about COMMUNITY.
We sit in a dark room and celebrate humanity together. And then we have the opportunity to come together afterwards and discuss life. It's unfortunate that the Theatre - and even movies - have become something of a bourgeois pleasure. And that price is costing us something very beautiful. The group of us at The Seeing Place firmly believes that the Theatre is an important past-time. To us, it is sociology without the science. And that's why we keep our ticket prices so low. As screwed up as Lenin and Stalin may have been, they understood how mainstream cinema creates a common language for people of all walks of life to come together. In their case, they may have been speaking of propaganda in film. But it applies even more to live theater. There's a reason why Harold Clurman referred to great plays as being "propaganda for a better life".
This is a call to arms. We need a shift of focus in our community. We're opening a show on Friday. We want to share it with our community - especially with those closest to us. It's not because we need our egos stroked. It's because we want to share our souls with you. And we want that to create something bigger than a show you came and liked.
Consider that, when I invite my friends, that it's as though I'm suggesting we go to a movie and hang out afterwards. The only difference is that I'm providing the entertainment. I expect that the show is only the first part of our evening together. And I challenge this community to engage in that possibility with me and with The Seeing Place.
We open John Kolvenbach's beautiful comedy, LOVE SONG, this week on Black Friday. When you come, please stay after and crush a cup of wine with us. How often does a community get a chance to conspire? I never knew the exact definition of that word until an actress names Rhona Gold taught me. It literally means: To Breathe Together. It's touched me ever since.
What thoughts do you have on the subject?