Thursday, March 1, 2007

Two Audiences

Sorry I haven't yet posted; I've been pretty busy running the press junket of sorts; my university has a television station, a radio station, and a handful of student newspapers and I have been running around, being interviewed at all of them...

For the local NPR affiliate, I got asked the following question:

"What do you think is the ultimate purpose of theatre?"

That was, of course, an awfully heady question to be asked on the morning after an opening night, where I may or may not have spent the evening at an opening-night party and may or may not have been drinking pink-flavored liquor and playing X-Box... so I paused, assembled some kind of coherent statement about how the wonderful thing about theatre is that it can have many purposes, and draw a different audience for each purpose and each play, and waited for the next question, which was:

"But do you think the purpose of theatre is to educate, or to entertain?"

Oh, my.

"Well," I replied, trying not to laugh, "that question's been around at least since Aristotle asked it, and so I'm not sure I'll be able to give a summative answer on such short notice!" And then back to the statement that there are many kinds of theatre, etc.

It was a very strange interview. The student journalist seemed to be trying to get me to say that theatre was useless, or at least outdated, which of course I was refusing to say. But I got thrown questions like "what is the point of a political play if audiences remain passive after watching it," and "do you think theatre is still effective when more people get both their information about social issues and their entertainment from places like YouTube?" Truth be told, I'm not sure the theatre we're doing right now is particularly effective, and certainly YouTube and the like are much better at fulfilling theatre's original function -- a sort of combination town crier/storyteller/entertainer/pundit.

And yet Rose still took the time to vacuum our playing space for us because she believed so much in the play we were doing, and two nights ago we had our special "industry night" in which we invited the university's entire maintenance/civil service staff, and filled the space with people who may never have seen a play before and certainly not a play about the working class, and who left the play saying things like "I was so glad to see our daily life -- our world, our concerns -- on stage."

That was our first audience. Our second audience, on last night's official opening, was largely made up of university students, most of them friends of someone in the performing ensemble. They were louder, laughed harder, and seemed to have a really good time. But -- as the NPR journalist asked -- "will this play change people's lives?" (Dear lord, save me from these hard-hitting journalistic platitudes.) This play probably won't make that particular audience "think" any differently, even if plays should -- this group sees about fifty plays a year, and last night was just another night in the theatre, just as it might have been another night at the movies or another episode of Lost.

What is the purpose of theatre? Don't ask me that now, not during a time in my life when I am re-evaluating the purposes of everything (yes, there's nothing like trying to understand another culture for casting difficult aspersions upon, say, ingrained stereotypes and assumptions).

And why do I think that I'd rather fill the theatre with people like Rose and Dan than with my opening-night audience, the theatre dorks and aficionados who are in fact the only group of people still keeping theatre alive in America?

Enough of that. I've got another interview to give this evening (the fifth in three days), and then tomorrow I get on a plane to present a paper at the Mid-America Theatre Conference. I can only hope I won't be swarmed by paparazzi when I arrive. ^__^


Space Bar said...

Blue: Do drop me a line if you're in Hyderabad. Unfortunately, if you're into theatre, you will be starved here! But hopefully you will find other things to keep you going.

Space Bar

Blue said...

Space Bar -- thanks! I will be in Hyderabad in August. Stay posted and I hope we can get in touch!

John said...

Are you by any chance familiar with the work of Augusto Boal?