It’s all about balance.
I had, interestingly enough, two separate discussions today about “picking a season”, about how a theatre chooses the plays that it will produce.
I thought that it was interesting that it came up twice today because we’ve also been discussing feedback from our patrons at the Williamston Theatre about the current show, and while most of it has been wonderfully enthusiastic, appreciative and supportive, there have been some folks that don’t like the madcap, slapstick-ey style in which the show is written (and produced).
And that’s okay. I enjoy feedback from our audiences, and I also find it a little fascinating.
The fascinating thing, for me, is how completely contradictory the responses can be. Earlier this season we had audience members tell us how much they enjoyed the heavy drama of The Effect Of Gamma Rays On Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds, and tell us they wanted more of that kind of play. And we also had audiences come out of that show tell us that they enjoyed it, but what they really wanted to see was something lighter, more comedic, more escapist. And it wasn’t just a couple of folks, either – both camps had a lot of folks giving up feedback!
And thank goodness.
Like any of the performing arts, what we need is an audience. An audience who cares. We can make plays all we want, but if we don’t have folks there to see it, what’s the point? And so, getting feedback from them is vital. That’s why we have preview performances, and why staff people hang out in the lobby after shows to chat with patrons and season subscribers. That’s why we enjoy phone calls and emails telling us what folks liked, and what they didn’t like!
The thing is, though – you have to accept that you’re NEVER going to please everyone all of the time. Attempting to do so will drive you insane, and result in bad art.
What we can do, though, is try to balance the season. Balance the style and content, the topics, the cast size, the budgets and the hundred other considerations that go into season selection. We, like every theatre, work to find our own balance – the mix of plays that says “Here’s what we want to say, and where we want to go. We hope you’ll go along and enjoy the ride with us!”
Recently we’ve gotten some great reviews, a lot of folks calling and writing to say how much they’re enjoying our current silly comedy – a show designed to be lighthearted fun. A show that ran for 6 nearly sold-out weeks at Tipping Point theatre before we moved it to WIlliamston. And we’ve also gotten some polite patrons saying, in essence, “It’s fun, but we’re glad not all the shows are like this… it’s a little broad and loud for our tastes”. And that’s fine – it IS broad and loud; that’s the style, that’s the script.
We also got a few emails from the gentleman who insisted that I be fired, due to what he perceives as my lack of commitment to seriously exploring the human condition (or something like that, I’m paraphrasing). Those emails disappoint me – not because I’m worried about being fired, I’m not – but because it appears that he missed the first two installments of our Voices From The Midwest series of original works exploring life in this part of the world, as well as the beautiful Leaving Iowa that explored family, growing up, and fathers and sons. Maybe he missed the rich subtleties of Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning script Talley’s Folly that explored the lives of two very different people following World War II, or the searing drama of the afore-mentioned Effect of Gamma Rays… So the questions become “Is our balance off?” and “Are we getting our message across cleanly enough?” and “Is our audience happy with this ride we’re taking?”
Those are the questions that theatre staffs all over the country ask themselves every single season.
Sometimes, it’s just our best guess. Either way, there is no getting around the fact that there IS a balance, and striking it is important. All of our balances will be different – and that’s okay.
I believe in a mix of serious and levity, a mix of defined and abstract. I want plays that are about people, and not issues, and I want those plays to be a mix of serious, ridiculous, subtle, blatant, quiet, loud, thoughtful and thoughtless. For the folks who want all heavy drama and no laughter, I respect your opinion but wouldn’t want to live in your world. For the folks who want all sunshine and smiles with no introspection, I respect your opinion but believe we must regularly look closely at the world around us and inside us.
And that’s my balance. Do I achieve it? Sometimes. Do I revise it? Often. But there it is. That’s what I strive for, as an artist. (Yes, I said it. I rarely do but, damnit, sometimes it’s the right word.)
It comes down to that a lot in life, doesn’t it?
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