Comfy? Is your seat ok? Got water?

Comfy? Is your seat ok? Got water? Ready to be transported, transformed, enlightened? That’s why you’re here, right? Boy, those are a lot of questions. But then, isn’t that what we do at the end of each year, ask questions? Take an inventory of our lives and try to figure out if we’ve added something to life or did we leave a deficit and take more from our community then we invested?

About this time every year we all start to sense that another year has passed quicker than we expected. Beyond the overwhelming displays in our streets and shopping centers, the news is rife with feel-good stories. The national Christmas tree is on its way… it’s up… it’s lit, hooray! These displays and stories help us feel confident that our continuum is assured. At the same time, though, don’t we all itemize our experiences, tally up our year and say, “Whew, we made it through, but let’s aim to do better next year?”

No matter whom or where, the key seems to be “let’s do better next year,” a valiant aspiration if nothing more. But what does that “do better” look like in the world of Theatre? How do we measure the results and set our goals for next year?

We ask these questions not to confound or overwhelm, but in order to understand how theatre is a measurable part of our lives, one with impact and consequence, and a world in which each of our voices can be heard. To play a bit off of Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol, a blessing is sought for everyone. And theatre is a blessing. How we utilize it, how we serve and consume it are up to us. Are we taking full advantage of the blessing which has been given to us?

For theatre makers, the questions may be: was my production everything it could have been, was I true to the vision, and did I fulfill the needs and expectations of my audience? For the theatre goer, some questions may be: did I enjoy the shows I saw, was there a show or theatre that especially touched me, did I offer of myself in the communion of the show, or was I an impartial observer?

Commitment to a show seldom a goes wanting, for theatre makers usually do tackle their projects with fervor and zeal. After all, it’s passion that drives artists to create. But for theatre to be an effective communicator, passion is not enough. Understanding the audience, addressing their needs, and framing a conversation to challenge their status quo in a way they can digest all contribute to enhance a theatre’s position within a community. And being a part of the community is essential for a theatre to survive both artistically and financially.

As we move into 2012, it’s clear that people see their place in the world differently today than ever before. Information and opinions on any subject are so readily accessible to everyone that expectation of intimate conversation on all levels is now the norm. Therein lies the challenge to theatre makers: how to serve the great truths an artist sees and frame them not so the audience understands, but to assure that the audience cares. Because, much like the proverbial tree that falls in the woods, if the audience isn’t there, nobody hears what’s being said.

For the audience, the challenge is to communicate back to our theatres what we experienced. We are responsible to express our reactions and expectations not just by the applause we give at the end of the show, but by engaging the artists and administrators through conversation and action throughout the year. We are responsible to express how we were affected, why we were or were not touched. That’s not a charge to become the artistic director, but an admonition to be a part of the process. Every time we write a note to the production company, or tell a friend about a show, we expand the conversation and the universe of Theatre. And lest we forget, in today’s economy our financial voice is also required.

At FootLights, we are always seeking better ways to connect theatres and audiences. We want to give you more options, broader reach and greater information about the theatre world. We look forward to expanding your horizons while at the same time offering clearer vision of each community that comprises the universe of Theatre.

So as this year draws to a close, let’s appreciate the accomplishments of yesterday, revel in the efforts of today and look forward to the successes of tomorrow. Together, as individuals we become parts of a community—of many communities— and in our connection to each, we extend our reach to others. That is theatre, alive and functioning. Support it, be a part of it, and have a spectacular new year.

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and 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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