Monday, August 13, 2018

Audiences: We Trust You

The Seeing Place ensemble trains together year round as actors and producers. In one of our workshops together we discussed an article called "Sit down, shut up and clap: A guide to theater etiquette" by Amanda Duarte which is basically a list of rules for audiences meant to fix a theatergoers experience. (I will link it down below for reference) Albeit the tone and intensity of the writer may very well have been humorous, after reading the article it just didn't sit right with me. As Audience Development Manager of The Seeing Place, I felt a strong aversion not because I disagree with all the rules Amanda Duarte poses, but because I think framing things in this way could potentially create an air of mistrust and exclusivity.

The theater etiquette listed in the article includes the ten rules “Sit the fuck down”, “Shut the fuck up”, “Sit the fuck still”, “Do not eat or drink”, “Turn. Off. Your. Cellular. Device”, “Take the gum out of your mouth”, “Be over 25 years old, and preferably over 30”, “Wear clothing”, “Be healthy”, and “Fucking clap”. According to the article, these outlines are meant to fix a theatergoers experience, but I'm afraid that thinking in these terms may have the opposite effect. The outlines are trying to “fix” a problem that, in my opinion, doesn't really exist on the large and overwhelming scale that the article seems to suggest. I think that this way of thinking is the real problem. The thought process that implies its a disturbance for people to dress a certain way or be under a certain age at the theater seems more problematic to me than a theatergoer wearing flip-flops or being 17. The real problem at the theater is a generalized consensus or attitude that condemns and is bothered by people doing anything that disturbs complete silence and stillness in the slightest. Of course, I agree that audiences should be conscious of the fact that they’re not the only individual at the theater. They should let people pass if they happen to be seated closer to the aisle than the center. They shouldn't use their cell phones or have a conversation during the performance. And I trust that our theatergoing community will do so.

Not everyone in The Seeing Place ensemble shared my reaction to the piece and many members thought the piece by Amanda Duarte was very funny and appreciated her witty style and straightforwardness. But everyone in the group did share a resounding distaste towards the insinuation that anyone under 25 years old doesn't belong at "the serious theater". I believe the insinuation that people under 25 shouldn't be at the theater is especially counterintuitive to keeping the art form well and alive. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to ensure that theater becomes a dying art form then to prevent the future theater makers from being part of our “club”. This way of thinking doesn't foster an inclusive and productive theatergoing community and experience. It breeds an air of superiority and contempt for those “not cultured enough” to partake in “our culture.” When I read these types of remarks, I feel condescended to. I'm disappointed that people so invested in art can’t see the importance of exposing children and young adults to the theater. Not all children are the same, and not all will be bored out of their mind. I sure wasn't when I watched The Importance of Being Earnest at age 15 or when my mom took me to Othello at age 6 or when I watched The Glass Menagerie in my senior year of high school. If culture is the necessary companion to civilization, I’d like this to include the members of our society that are under 25 as well as those that wear flip-flops and the ones that are diabetic and need a snack, and I’d like if a surgeon could leave the theater if that meant a life could be saved.

As an artist who wants to provide value in the world and feel appreciated, I'd like people to clap and enjoy the performance.  But I, certainly, don't think you HAVE to clap. The transaction goes as follows, you paid for a ticket and we put on a play. Whether you liked it, appreciated it, or not is your business. And you can choose to clap or not to clap. We are not entitled to your applause. If we unquestioningly adopt the idea that, as artists, we are entitled to a certain type of audience that behaves a certain way we are shooting ourselves in the foot. It's destructive to the whole point of the theater. If the theater-making community preaches inclusivity, they should abide by it.

One of the big flaws of the theater-making and theater-going community is an air of entitlement that surrounds it. If that keeps being cultivated and supported then theater might very well die or at least the point of it will. I think an air of mistrust through a litany of rules will only discourage people from coming to the theater. We, at The Seeing Place, want the theater to be a place were inclusivity can flourish. Above all, we believe the theater is FOR ALL.  You came to watch a show, so please watch the show but we won't tell you how to do it. We trust your judgment.  I want the theater to be a place where we are free to explore, reflect, and feel. For these three things to take place there must be an openness that allows for discovery. I want our plays to create a space where these things are possible for us as well as our theater-going community.  Just because there are no rules doesn't mean we don't want to communicate with you. So instead of listing a litany of rules to The Seeing Place’s community, We’d like to focus on a few Yes’s, not to-do’s or have-to’s but invitations, that may enrich and bring value to our community. I'd like to find ways to communicate with you and foster creativity and inclusivity. Where we are free to come together as individuals and embark on an adventure.

My invitation to you is to be unapologetically giving to yourself and those around you when you're at the theater. Dare to listen and see. Dare to understand yourself and those around you. Face the truth and set yourself free.

"When you’re at the theatre, I’d invite you to engage. The audience plays a crucial role. Try to allow yourself to relax and be with the players and the story. If you find something funny, let yourself laugh. If no one else is laughing, don’t worry about it. Don’t push or force your laughter. I’m not saying that you need to be some kind of mechanical laugh-track. But frequently, I look at audiences and people are bored, checked out, sleeping, etc. The play you are watching may not be the best thing since sliced bread, but there is something going on onstage that you can learn from. I promise. There are lots of design elements that went into making this work of art. There is the story itself. There are a bunch of living human beings in front of you. They are making choices for reasons. Whether or not their characters come fully to life or carry any significant meaning to you, you have to be the horse that doesn’t just stand at the water, looking at itself in the reflection, suspicious of what it’s gotten itself into. The fact that you made it to the theater is great for our budgets. But we’re not there to make money. We’re there to share in a communal energy. And for that, you have to be the horse that drinks. And by that, I mean the proverbial water, but wine also helps. :O)" - Brandon Walker (Producing Artistic Director)

"We invite you to enjoy a drink during the show, or afterward in the lobby with the cast!" - Rachael Murray (Ensemble Member)

"In theater, open your heart to learning about yourselves and others. We, actors, are holding a mirror up to all our lives. See beyond the celebrity and appearance, question the situation and possible outcomes, commit that time to focus on the story unveiling in front of you - let it take you out of your daily struggles into a land of consideration. Try seeing the other’s point of view and humanity without judgment. We are there to help you experience it, to explore what it means to be human. Together. Become an active participant, an equal creator. We need you." - Gaia Visnar (Associate Producer)

"Don’t be afraid to talk to the artists if you see them in the lobby or around town! We love to hear about the impact that our work may have had on you - we do it for YOU!" - Erin Cronican (Executive Producer/Managing Director)

 We are committed to creating a community with you all. Two essential parts of our artistic community are freedom and communication. So, my last invitation to you all (for now) is to comment down below with your very own invitation to us and fellow audiences..or anything else you might like to express.

[ARTICLE] Sit down, shut up and clap: A guide to theater etiquette