As you may or may not know, I recently wrote an article detailing my thoughts in the wake of a recent community theatre production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers. The reader response to said article has been a pleasant surprise. If that article’s goal was to get people thinking and talking, then it has met its goal with success. Now I’d like to take a back seat and let their responses do the talking. Here’s what a few of the people had to say.
“I’ve done Marisol, and that would be a perfect show to shock the blue out of the hairs of the old crones… Another show suggestion is A Behanding in Spokane, look it up. It’s dark, mysterious, confusing and pee your pants funny!”
“Thank you James. I hope that everyone involved with local theater reads your article.”
Mary Ann says:
“James, welcome to the contradiction that is ‘community theatre’… PPT is a unique community – more haven than urban. It, and thousands of community theatres across the US face more or less the same challenges: How do we fill the seats with paying audience members? How do we attract volunteer actors who are possibly above the ‘Gee I did drama club in high school 20 years ago, so I can act’ (not that there isn’t some great talent in that pool); How do we attract talented volunteer directors, designers and crew who want to stretch their creativity? How do we attract people who think of community theatre as more than a hobby? How do we please the season ticket holders, sponsors and donors who keep us in business?… Theatres need to offer what the community wants, what the volunteers would like to work on and what the audience wants to pay for.”
“Well written and well intentioned review, but you must realize how offensive your comments may have been to the ‘Blue Hair’ readers. And it wasn’t the content of your personal viewpoint that was the culprit, but the tone of being talked down to, as if the older generation is somehow less aware, or less intellectual, or less capable, or less important than those you assumed you were addressing. At times I almost felt as if you were talking about the advanced in years as if they were some kind of small memento already gathering dust on someone’s shelf. In my 48 years of life on this big blue marble, I have come to understand that experience often gives birth to wisdom and should count for an enormous amount of deserved (earned) respect, none of which I perceived you were crediting to our elderly patrons. And by the way, these same very valuable individuals are the same ones usually responsible for turning on the younger generation to the theatrical arts by dragging their children and grandchildren to the shows with them. You know, getting them out from in front of the mezmerizing blue glowing entertainment box placed strategically in front of their couches.”
I’d like to comment on that one a bit. First off, thanks to Doug for his honesty, and I agree with what he has to say. I was not trying to convey any belittlement or disrespect to older patrons or any group. However, sometimes what is intended is not what is perceived, and if I offended anyone then I do offer my sincerest of apologies. To marginalize any group, such as older patrons, would be just as much a travesty as marginalizing the younger audience I referred to in the article. Saying that (to paraphrase) old people are going to die was said to help illustrate a point, and was not meant to be taken with complete seriosuness or gravity. Although my words may have gotten in the way of my message, the point I was trying to convey was one of inclusion for all aspects of “the audience” as a multi-faceted entity, not exclusion or replacement of one group with another. Limiting our conceptions, keeping them static, or merely shifting them does no good; they must be broadened to realize their full potential. Enough digression though, back to the reader comments.
“I’m proud of PPT for pushing the envelope a bit on this show and hope they decide to try it again in the not so distant future… while Fuddy Meers was on the dark side, it was not nearly as dramatic or edgy as I think the untapped audience you’ve mentioned is used to seeing in many of the films they watch. It will be interesting to watch in the coming years which theaters ‘evolve’ as you said, and adapt portions of their seasons (or add less polished events inbetween) to new audiences, and how that works for their budgets, sponsors, patrons, etc.”
“Nice! When I was on the script committee, a couple of us really wanted I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change but were told it would be flat-out vetoed for its content. That’s the first thing I thought of when the first f-bomb flew in Fuddy Meers. The second thing I thought – way to push the edges, PPT!”
There you have it. This discourse transcends anything my own feeble words could accomplish… but all the same, I have a few closing thoughts. Fuddy Meers may have pushed the boundaries, but it was written in the 1990’s and we’re now in 2011. Do we really want to be that far behind the times? We’re now in an age where shows like Avenue Q and Spring Awakening are winning best musical at the Tony’s. Not some esoteric award given by obscure groups of critics nobody has heard of or cares about, but the Tony’s. Even people who never have and never will see a single play in their life know what the Tony’s are. The years I spent studying at university, wherein I both performed and sat in the audience for numerous theatre, dance, and music performances broadened my theatrical perceptions significantly. There is a mindset there shared by the faculty and students that has no fear, only a desire to create. There are so many gems waiting to be discovered out there. I know Rockford or the surrounding communities aren’t campus towns, but we do have Rockford College, Highland College, Rock Valley College, and all the local high schools, so I truly believe the audience for these shows is out there, they’re just dormant and need to have a reason to stir. Even if it’s just one show every few seasons, progressive theatre needs to be phased into the local scene. Thank you to all my readers, and please don’t be afraid to let me know your thoughts on anything at all. Conversation will lead to evolution. Be a part of the future.
James really wants you, the readers, to keep your thoughts coming. E-mail him at email@example.com with your thoughts on artistically progressive theatre, targeting a younger audience, the best way to cook venison chili, or whatever your heart desires.