Monday, August 26, 2013

How To Excite People About The Theatre
We live in a critical community.  I have even begun to notice a growing disillusionment within myself.  I no longer love going to the theatre.  When people invite me to their shows, I am most frequently annoyed.  Almost immediately, I start looking for a way out of the evening.  When I do make it to a show, I usually go out of a sense of obligation to relationship or prior support.  I openly criticize the commercial market, and I am highly suspicious of everything else.  I am an artist who has grown tired of art.

Does this tirade seem familiar?  Unfortunately, it seems to be the majority opinion in New York.  And yet, some of us are still trying to fight the good fight in a city of 8.25 million cynics.  So, I guess the real question is...

How can we share our work with friends, family, acquaintances, and the general community in a way that is engaging and excites them to take part in it?

1.)  Share your excitement about the project.
This week, I was invited to three shows.  I didn't want to see any of them.  Why?  Because none of the people that invited me gave me any reason for going.  They didn't give me anything to be excited about.  And much as I like to think of myself as a generous and loving person, at the end of a long day it's hard to care that much about supporting people.  I want to know that I am doing something that is worth my time and energy.  After attending, I found that I quite enjoyed my time, but up until I was actually in the audience watching, I dreaded the thought of being at every show.

One of the best things you can do for your community is to reach out to them and prepare them for what they are about to see.  When you invite them, let them know why you want them to come and what you want them to experience.  Don't feel the need to tell them about reviews or audience responses.  That may help, but the chances are that their investment is in you, so share from yourself.  If you give them something personal to latch onto, their experience will almost definitely be more enjoyable.

2.)  Don't be afraid to reach out personally.
I find that I only ever make time for shows if someone asks me to come - not me and whoever else is BCC'd to the email they send.  If someone takes the time to write me personally, then I assume they find it important for ME to be there, and that always makes me feel good.  That may seem like a selfish way of living, but I think most of us are guilty of it.

3.)  It's okay to reach out more than once.
I can't tell you how many shows I've missed because nobody reminded me that they were closing.  We all lead busy lives - especially in a city like New York.  If you reached out the week before your show opened and don't tell me again, then the chances are that I'm going to forget about the show until it's over.  Go ahead and send a reminder.  Even if I didn't want to come the first time I was told, sometimes I reconsider when I see that someone is passionate enough about a project to remind me about it.

4.)  Please don't speak badly about the show, the cast, the director, the... anything.
When people complain to me (sometimes even within the invitation), my first thought is usually that there's no point in going to this show.  My second thought usually has to do with why that person invited me to a show they obviously don't want to be a part of.  Why bother talking about the show at all?  Try to keep your sharing only to the things that are exciting to you if you want people to come.  Even if someone is excited about a show, when they tell me, "It's long, and I'm only playing a small part," they give me permission to skip this one.  So, be really careful about what you say to people.  Just stick to what excited you about the project - even if it's the money, the prestige, or just getting your feet wet in New York.  And that positive energy can only help your experience of the show.

*NOTE - Don't wait "until the show is good" to let people know about it.  By the time you're comfortable, there's usually no time left in their schedules to get there.  If you're in a production that seems promising, go ahead and let people know.  They'll probably miss opening weekend, anyway.  And if not, then commit to doing your best for every audience member and every show, and there will be nothing to apologize about.  Never apologize if you've given your most sincere effort.  Nothing is ever going to be perfect.

5.)  Thank people for coming and accept their responses.
Please don't be one of those actors.  Don't come out and go off about how bad the show was tonight.  It's LIVE THEATRE.  Things happen.  Share your experience of the show with them in a positive and inclusive way.  Sometimes, the night that everything goes wrong is a great show.  And even if it's not, nobody knows the difference.  If someone compliments you, accept it.  Thank them.  Don't invalidate them by arguing the issue.  If someone doesn't like something, don't defend it.  Just take it in and thank them for sharing with you.  Try not to delve deep into what people "really thought" of the performance.  They'll tell you if they want to.  They won't if they don't.  Let your direction come from the director and your criticism come from the critics.

With that, take responsibility for your work and have some pride about it.  There is so much more to talk about than how well the performance went (or not).  If you want to discuss something, discuss what the play brings up for you.  It'll be much more engaging.  After all, Theatre is about ideas.  It's about questioning and understanding our humanity - and that's a conversation we can all enjoy.

We'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas, too!  Please leave a comment and share with us.


  1. I really like this. I've had the same experiences with people inviting me to something and then almost talking me out of it in the next breath.

    I also want to share a quote from a blog post by Jason Robert Brown, (highly recommended read!) where he shares a story about unknowingly insulting Stephen Sondheim after a show of his. From the article:

    "And then Steve said something which I have never forgotten, and I will paraphrase it here so that it may serve as a lesson to all, a lesson learned by me at the foot of the master:

    ' Nobody cares what you think. Once a creation has been put into the world, you have only one responsibility to its creator: be supportive. Support is not about showing how clever you are, how observant of some flaw, how incisive in your criticism. There are other people whose job it is to guide the creation, to make it work, to make it live; either they did their job or they didn’t. But that is not your problem.

    If you come to my show and you see me afterwards, say only this: “I loved it.” It doesn’t matter if that’s what you really felt. What I need at that moment is to know that you care enough about me and the work I do to tell me that you loved it, not “in spite of its flaws”, not “even though everyone else seems to have a problem with it,” but simply, plainly, “I loved it.” If you can’t say that, don’t come backstage, don’t find me in the lobby, don’t lean over the pit to see me. Just go home, and either write me a nice email or don’t. Say all the catty, bitchy things you want to your friend, your neighbor, the Internet.

    Maybe next week, maybe next year, maybe someday down the line, I’ll be ready to hear what you have to say, but that moment, that face-to-face moment after I have unveiled some part of my soul, however small, to you; that is the most vulnerable moment in any artist’s life. If I beg you, plead with you to tell me what you really thought, what you actually, honestly, totally believed, then you must tell me, “I loved it.” That moment must be respected...'

  2. I like what Erin has to say.

    I've been in shows that other actors have come to see, and the after-show talk can be downright hurtful and venomous. They'll pick apart this moment and that moment, point out what didn't work, why that person wasn't right for the part, how it was too long, too short or just not any good whatsoever. We've all been there. Right?

    I spoke to a young actress recently and expressed the fact that it was wrong to tear down the work other actors do.

    She shot back: "We all do it whenever we see anybody's shows. I always think about how much better I would have been if I had done the part. I can't help it."

    Well, you didn't do the role. Somebody else did. Instead of picking out flaws, be humble enough to recognize that your "imagined" performance wouldn't necessarily have trumped that of the person who actually did the part.

    Appreciate the work you've seen. Honor actors for putting themselves on the line. And show them respect. If we don't give that to each other, who else will?

    1. I'd also like to add that it's 100% uncreative to sit in judgement of any kind of art. Beyond that, it's poisonous to let yourself indulge in thoughts that have to do with how good or bad something is, much less to share them or cut someone else's work down.

      The more we can ask ourselves WHY we're responding in certain ways and try to UNDERSTAND what is going on, where the artists may be accomplishing and what successes and difficulties they seem to be dealing with, the more we can learn to treat ourselves and our communities creatively and with respect.

      I find it particularly important to try and look for what IS there, rather than what ISN'T - and I constantly try and challenge my viewpoints, especially with popular artists that our community decides to openly criticize. Usually, there is a reason for their popularity that can be celebrated. If nothing else, we can learn from one another when we decide to be discerning, rather than judgmental.

  3. I've been through this several times. And, I hate it because more often than not, my friends will find me after the show and ask me "Did you like it"? Now, there are times that I can't find something positive to say, because there is that possibility that the show was awful. It has happened more often than I care to admit. I would rather say "Wow, congratulations, I can see you've put a lot of effort into it". However, some actors, even directors, will badger me with "Yeah, but what did you think of it? Did I do a good job?" I can't bring myself to lie, so if I don't comment specifically, then don't "fish" for compliments. It's one of the reasons I cringe when folks invite me to a show. The unspoken obligation of "I loved it" is ever present, and it goes against what I believe. I don't disparage a bad production until I get home, alone, behind closed doors and bemoan my fate of a painful evening past.
    Also, as a counterpoint, I've been in some spectacularly horrible shows. And, I've not invited folks to those. If a friend asked me why I didn't invite them, I simply would say, it's not one they would enjoy. Again, because it's the truth without trashing anyone or anything.
    It's the standard I've set for myself, and one that has worked and I've been at peace with for a long time.


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