Thoughts after ACT’s June Construction Zone

Recently I went to ACT’s Construction Zone series (my first time) with my friend Courtney Meaker. Although I was underwhelmed by the evening, it did get me thinking. My

thoughts also came up during the conversations with Annex Theatre following pitch sessions. Who does theatre serve? What is self-indulgent theatre? Who is our audience?

This entry is not meant to come to any conclusions, but perhaps to open up a conversation.

When a playwright writes a play or an ensemble devises a new piece or a director chooses a script to produce, what is their intention? Who do they wish to serve? Oftentimes, the audience becomes an amebic blob that could be made up of any combination of individuals who all have similar tastes and thoughts and feelings. As individual performers (and as humans), we are well aware that we all have our own thoughts and feelings, but when referring to an audience, it’s usually irrelevant who exactly makes up the group, as long as they simultaneously laugh and cry and clap.

In order to create a cohesive product, it helps not to think of the audience. As a theatre artist, if you’re focused on the audience who will consume your work once it’s complete (and you have no idea what this final product will look like exactly due to the collaborative nature of theatre), then you’ll never be able to create any art at all. You’ll be worried constantly if they’ll laugh at certain jokes or really feel for a character and inevitably nothing will come out. So you have to serve yourself.

You have to write what you want, how you want it, and when you’re proposing the play or workshopping it or even rehearsing it, the process has to be all about you, the creator (may it be playwright, director, designer, actor). As the rehearsals come to a close (and even earlier as the marketing campaign begins), the production team and cast are suddenly overwhelmed with trying to please a new, unknown factor: the audience. (Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly rehearsal processes where the pervading attitude is “fuck the audience, they’ll take what we give them.”) Whether or not the audience chooses to attend, the audience is unknown. Yes, marketing can t a specific demographic and we know certain plays draw in certain types of people, no one can really know what joys and traumas each individual brings into the theatre each night. But we do it for them anyway, because if we only made theatre for ourselves, why would we invite anyone to come?

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts after ACT’s June Construction Zone”

  1. I think we can at least ask, “Who am I making this for?” without caving to a massive audience demand. But perhaps asking it in that form is what’s doing a disservice. Maybe the question should just be “Why am I writing/creating this thing now?” By asking “Why now?” we may at least be able to make a piece that is at least serving a specific community who also find your answer to that question relevant to them.

    For instance, though I have no answer to “Why produce Gurney’s ‘Sylvia’ now?” I’m sure someone does. That’s who they are creating it for.

    It’s of course, always subjective though, so I agree that we have to start with liking what we do first, then consider audience after.

  2. Hi! Stumbled across this and thought I’d add my two pence worth. 🙂 I reckon attempting to tailor something for a specific audience is incredibly helpful for devising groups but very destructive for individual playwrights. From past experience, wondering things like ‘who’s going to want to see this/like this/get something from this?’ can be off-putting and discouraging when you’re writing alone, but can really help to clarify and focus a collaborative devising process.

    1. That’s a great point. There should be a distinction made between an individual writing a play that sort of “goes into the ether” and a collaborative group creating a piece to be performed to a specific community. However, I think the line becomes blurred when a group is choosing plays written by individuals in order to fit the expectations of a certain community, and I suppose that’s where my thoughts were coming from. I witnessed a playwright sitting onstage, a playwright who had written a play for himself but also to be performed, so he was receiving feedback from a specific audience. But ultimately, he’s doing it for himself, and it didn’t serve me (as an audience member).

tell it like it is

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