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.