Talkback? Post-show Discussion? Which is better? which is more fruitful? which is pointless?
This semester I’ve been to a fair share of performances with talkbacks or post-show discussions. Now, you may be thinking, aren’t those the same thing? No, not really. The words you use really do matter.
When Baltimore by Kirsten Greenidge premiered through Boston University School of Theatre and New Rep, I had the opportunity of running our post-show discussion. We were told to ask questions such as, What does it take to have a conversation about Race? We had special guest, Kirsten Greenidge herself, as well as the attendance of the entire cast. With the playwright in the room, the discussion turned into asking her questions about her inspiration, process, and history. Our audience was so interested in her story as well as the casts’ connections to their characters’ that we didn’t even get to asking our question. The momentum of the talkback was passionate and wonderful, but was it’s focus helpful to the play itself?
At Milk Like Sugar‘s, also by Kirsten Greenidge, special discussion, as they called it, I found it was much more structured, which I liked. The Huntington Theatre Company moderator began by introducing the guests. Kirsten Greenidge was also in attendance at this discussion, as were a senior and a sophomore at Boston Area high schools. One an aspiring playwright going on to attend NYU and the other was a participant in the development of the play. The final guest was a cast member. The moderator then asked the audience some questions in which we were to raise our hands if we agreed. The final question was, do you think the end of the play was hopeful?, in which we were then prompted to open our eyes to see those who agree or not, and begin the conversation there. After discussing the story and the thoughts it emitted for us, we began to talk to the guests, primarily the senior and sophomore, who discussed their roles in the processes as well as what they experience in daily life at school surrounding the play’s topics. Kirsten spent most of the time listening, chiming in occasionally, when she felt fit. I left feeling inspired by the two young women and in awe of the amazing playwright and cast member.
Finally, I attended the post-show discussion after seeing We’re Gonna Die by Young Jean Lee at Company One. Two of the company’s dramaturgs moderated the discussion. They opened by saying that the space was open for questions about the process, playwright, performance, as well as any comments regarding our experience. The audience aired their curiosities about the show and it’s process as well as how it was different with Obehi performing rather than Young Jean Lee herself. The one woman show/concert led to many questions regarding the trueness of the pieces performed. Where they autobiographical? Were they changed so that Obehi could perform them? The focus was truly on the piece itself.
Neither of these experiences were negative, but they led to different states of mind following the discussions. Obviously, no one discussion is the same, just as no one performance of live theatre is the same. However, there’s something about a discussion that gives a structure that is more than, “let’s talk!”