What Has the Audience to Say?

The value of theatre to a community has long been a focus of this publication. We extol its virtues and cry aloud that theatre is a cohesive agent for a community. All the benefits that are offered, we argue, stem from long study and presumption of obviously discernable value. But obvious to whom? The philosophical benefits are all well and good, and if we stay within the confines of the theatre community, there would be little or no argument on the subject.

Yet, what is the real value of theatre to the community? Arguably, theatre doesn’t put food on the table, it certainly doesn’t do that for the participants. It doesn’t cure disease, at least not the physical type, nor does it swaddle the baby or provide us with hearth and home. Despite all the things it doesn’t do, theatre continues.

A conversation has been started amongst the practitioners in the theatre community of late, and it addresses this question specifically. Why does theatre exist and whom does it serve? As varied parties chime in, the first group spoken of is the audience. Much is said of moral imperatives and social consciousness. Teaching lessons that elude the common man. Truth be told, all those arguments have been made on these pages, and from our perspective they are valid. But do they speak to you?

Then there’s the discussion of artistic expression and a venting of the soulful imperatives. Sounds good, but what the hell does that mean? Is it possibly code for theatre artists feeding their own egos. Could it be that some theatre is produced solely for the purpose of aggrandizing an individual?

The final significant entry in this question of who benefits is the producers. Producers supposedly marshal the courage of those that have money to put up the financing for those that have no money. The rewards can range from profit to moral satisfaction.

As with any discussion there are multiple truths. The audience is taught, the artistic ego is fed and on occasion the producer makes a buck. And these of course are all part of the process, yet the magic of it mixed together provides for some wonderfully engaging theatre. In real terms, as long as some fraction of a show meets the needs of those involved then satisfaction can be had.

But, just for a moment, let’s step away from the great compromise. Let’s allow you to be selfish and consider what it is that you want from theatre as an audience. Why do you come to the theatre? What would inspire you to come more often? When do you feel satisfied, when do you feel cheated? Is there something you would love to see, is there a subject you think needs to be explored?

If theatre is the relevant art form that we espouse it to be, then it should stand up to the test of audience demand. ! What you ask for will, in fact, shape the course of theatre yet to come. Be it the message or the method, the input you provide will be like a pebble in the sea of art. Understand that, respect it and take advantage of the circumstance. When artist want to know what you have to say, it’s a moment to strike.

Now that we’ve given you the assignment how do you complete it? First off, tell us. Yep, let FootLights be the conduit of your message. You can send us a letter, you can give us a call, you can send us an email, or jump into the 21st century and find us on Facebook or Twitter. These are methods to pass on your thoughts. Engage yourself to the discussion, express your needs and you will be rewarded.

FootLights is here to serve all of the elements of theatre, audience, artist and producer alike. All are essential for theatre to grow. When we speak of community and the place theatre has served, it is from the history of theatre that we learn. For it to continue, you must make the history.

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and footlight.click. While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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