I’ve spent the last few days in snowy Madison, WI visiting friends, eating delicious food, and drinking a wide array of local brews. It’s been a lovely, relaxing few days. Over the weekend, I caught a Saturday matinee of a touring ‘live-action graphic novel’ called The Intergalactic Nemesis Book One: Target Earth. It was a fun production that was not dissimilar to our production back in October of the staged radio-play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The Intergalactic Nemesis played to a crowded house at the Overture Center for the Arts right in the heart of downtown Madison. This was the first time I can remember seeing a regional theatre production in a smaller city. I’m so accustomed to attending shows in booming metropolises (like Toronto, London, or New York City) where the audiences are often critical observers rather than excited participants. The excited audience (young and old) in Madison helped to remind me what is at the core of theatre.
Theatre is, first and foremost, for audiences.
One could say that the process leading up to a performance is for the artists; the rehearsal room is a place for actors/directors/designers to question everything, let their imaginations run wild, and make discoveries. However, a performance is an offering. It is an invitation to an audience to participate in the telling of a story.
I think this fact can sometimes get lost in big cities. Perhaps it’s an issue of over-saturation. Maybe there are so many theatres vying for an audience’s attention, that it becomes a competition to see who can do it better. I certainly find myself often entering playhouses with the mind of a critic. I’ll catch myself judging a production while I’m watching it, rather than allowing myself to be immersed in it. I am not in any way saying that reflection and thought are to be frowned upon. On the contrary, I believe they are necessary! But, I think they should come after the fact. Hindsight is, after all, 20:20. The audience in Madison reminded me how to bask in the warm glow of the moment instead of shading myself with the wall of my critical intellect.
A performance is a two-way street. The theatre should not be pretentious. It should guide an audience on a journey through the story. On the other side of the footlights, audiences should come with open minds and, more importantly, open hearts.
I will strive to keep this in mind as I head back to the big city tomorrow.
So long Madison!