Saturday, February 16, 2013

creating a/broad, February 16, 2013

Pre-Play, Post-Play
by Cameryn Moore

I went to see Innocence Lost at the Centaur this last Thursday. That’s right, I took my Valentine’s Day date to a play about rape. In fairness, the play is only partly about rape, my date was a mature and theatre-savvy person, and I specifically picked the Valentine’s Day show because there was a pre-show presentation scheduled and I wanted to see how that worked.

Special events around main-stage theatrical productions have become increasingly interesting to me as I produce more and more of my own shows away from the Fringe circuit. The Fringe environment rarely has room for post-show anything except clearing the fucking stage, but when I have the theatre for the night, or when I’m doing a university presentation and an educational component is expected, or I’m in town for a week beforehand … there is space here for related happenings. And after 2.5 years of field research now, witnessing other people’s efforts and participating in a fair amount of talkbacks and panels and workshops, there are a few things I’ve started to think about in terms of making these things work really well or not at all. 

it’s a bit of virtual handholding that folks seem to appreciate

First of all, I think it’s important to be honest about the real purpose of the special event. It’s not enough to say, “oh, well, we’ve got the time, might as well do an event” or “oh, let’s do X event, it will be perceived as added value to the ticket buyer”. INSUFFICIENT. Are you trying to inform, make connections, raise visibility, make money? These are all valid and useful reasons for running a special event, and they help keep the event itself targeted and useful to the audience.

For example, the Innocence Lost pre-show turned out to be right on point in terms of providing some political and legal context for the unease and outrage depicted in the play. For my own show Phone Whore, I do the post-show talkback as a way of answering questions, concerns, and feelings that come up for many people during the show; it’s a bit of virtual handholding that folks seem to appreciate. Gallery exhibits or behind-the-scenes art displays (I have seen several very dynamic pieces of art sketched in a rehearsal room or during a tech rehearsal) are great instances of promoting collaboration and cross-pollination between performing and fine arts. I personally am considering more workshops around my touring activities, both to raise visibility for the theatrical production and to encourage people to start experimenting with practical applications of themes I explore in my shows.

I’m finding that narrowing the focus and scope of a special event is important.

Another consideration is how proximate the special event needs to be in time and space to the theatrical event for the special event to have its desired impact. The Innocence Lost pre-show talk made sense immediately pre-show. I would have liked it to be a little more concise, but for people digging courtroom dramas, I could see that position in the schedule being much more immediately useful, attractive, and convenient to audience members than, say, a one-and-a-half hour stand-alone lecture on the same topic. Those workshops I’m thinking about doing? I intend for them to have good value as stand-alone educational opportunities, but I still am not sure how much in advance of the shows to book them for maximum impact on visibility. (I’ll get back to you on that.)

I’m finding that narrowing the focus and scope of a special event is important. You don’t want it to be too niche, but a vaguely organized happening is … meh. Depending on the format of the event, it can spiral downward rapidly, if no one is on hand and tasked with really keeping it on track. I remember a panel discussion at the 2011 Montreal Fringe beer tent… whoops, there was the first problem. Actually, “I remember” isn’t an accurate start: I don’t remember what the topic was supposed to be, but I do remember being really excited about it, and I also remember leaving at the end feeling pissed off about the egregious and uncontrolled self-promotion that had constituted the vast majority of the panel time. Nothing that prepared questions and some advance guidelines to the panelists couldn’t have fixed. 

I definitely had to learn to flip easily in and out of the performer and facilitator roles

In contrast, I was a participant last year at a Vancouver Fringe panel  about gender, sexuality, and theatre, that was exceptionally well facilitated by an academic expert in the field. He had specific, thought-provoking questions and rode the mic like a pro.

Even more informal post-show Q&As could use some kind of facilitator, to keep track of who is raising their hand, officially interrupt the grandstanders, and be ready with a few basic questions to jumpstart a quiet and/or shy audience. Hell, when I first started doing my own talkbacks, I definitely had to learn to flip easily in and out of the performer and facilitator roles (i.e. Good Cop/Bad Cop). 

Above all, I want to be organic about all of this. If the collaboration comes easily to mind, if a natural lecture topic seems to emerge around a show, or a theme for an exhibit just pops up at 2am in a FB chat with a friend, that’s a great sign. Not that brainstorming isn’t useful—sometimes I just know that there should be additional supporting events, but the answer is lurking just below my consciousness—but I don’t have a marketing, educational or special events staff to work this shit out. I do all of this myself, so it has to be easy. 

So far, I mostly see festivals and larger, established performance companies doing the extracurricular stuff, but I’d love to see more solo artists and smaller companies getting in on the act. The more challenging our work, the more potential there is for using it as a launch point for something more.
For tickets to Hot Threesome click here

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