Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Feature: Sue Edworthy on Collaborating With the Audience

Ben Irvine and Sochi Friend in The Charge of the Expordimable Moose (photo by Yuri Dojc)

One Art!
What if we let them in the door...
by Sue Edworthy

Something I've been insistent about my companies doing lately is letting people in the door. And giving an audience member time to prep and learn about the show/actors/designers. Giving the opportunity and maybe a bit more well, before they hope to learn about a show by trying to read a program in 9 pt font with the house at half and a friend offering them gum. (I’m kidding; the gum offer comes halfway through the first act).
I’ve been playing with the analogy of doors lately, and letting people come in through more than one, or one that they choose. It’s not just a question of giving people the key; it’s a question of actually unlocking the door.
We need to remember - this thing we do?

Most people don’t do it.
Most people are unsure as to what the lighting designer does (other than make sure we’re not in the dark) or how a performer feels about the script, the character, the playwright’s work. This uncertainty is what leads to the question “how do you remember all those lines?” in talkbacks.
What if we let them in the door?

What if we gave people tidbits and trivia about the playwright?

What if ahead of time the actors had a chance to give their ideas and opinions on the playwright, the work and their character? A one or two minute video of themselves as people, talking about their work or the play? Can that lead to someone asking about something other than the volume of lines in their heads?

What if a week or so before, the set and/or costume maquettes and designs were posted in the website, with the designers explaining how they and the director collaborated on these creations? “Collaboration” is a big word in today’s workforce, and I don’t see many doing it better than theatre folks.
What if we gave people tidbits and trivia about the playwright, showing who they are as a person and creator outside this one work? Often when we learn something new about someone, it colours our feelings towards them. We add it to the information we have. 
Now granted there are folks that simply want to walk in and watch a play. No problem, that’s your choice. But there are others who want to prepare.

As I’m writing this, TIFF is coming to an end. The sheer volume or articles, news clips, quotes from actors, directors, designers about the films and the work they do is staggering.
We should be doing this too. And I am aware that the movie industry is a multi-billon dollar machine, and many of our companies don’t have multi-billion dollar machines, but here’s the thing.
It’s doable.
If we look at The Charge of the Expormidable Moose – a show I worked on with One Little Goat - you can watch videos on YouTube of the actors giving their ideas about the work. One minute videos shot with a flip cam. You can learn about Claude Gauvreau as everything he was other than a playwright with #ohmsieurg (he was also a poet, sound poet and polemicist). Hear from the translator.  Find out what expormidable really means, read articles, look at set designs, rehearsal photographs, eavesdrop #OHinrehearsal) hear from scholars, designers 
Nobody has to do all or any of these things before the show. But having them there lets people into the world we are creating. And doesn’t it expand the opportunity to get past a friends and family audience into audience members who have a specific interest in certain parts of what you are doing? Let them in? They possibly didn’t even know the door was there let alone open.

Here’s a fun fact. I was creating a Facebook ad for Moose and putting in the usual suspects for targeting – theatre, Toronto, Quebec, French theatre. Threw in philosophy as well. As somewhat of a joke I said we’d better look for “surrealist automatism” because that was a Gauvreau thing too.

One thousand people were added to our reach. Open the surreal door, get a real opportunity.
If we look at the stuff we’ll do for Modern Times in February, we'll do very similar things for their show Forgiveness – it’s a big subject, almost too big. But we’ll do many of the things above and we can expand to including interviews with the general public, getting the opinion of religious scholars, people who have forgiven the unforgivable, people who cannot forgive.
Please forgive me/I forgive you. Everyone has an opinion on that. How will we make it part of our experience with them?

How do we help them invest in their own experience?
Let people in. And give them the tools they need. The more you can prepare people, the better the odds they'll enjoy themselves, experience something, leave thinking - and come back.


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