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The Role of the Audience

This past Sunday, Lyn Gardner released an article in The Guardian titled, “Should theatre fund audiences and not just artists?” An interesting question, but the article doesn’t entirely address it. The article is more concerned with the balance between providing space for artists to test their work and the actual programming and performance of work. Due to some vague generalizations about this topic and a few not-so-well-focused points, the article kicked up quite a few online debates. A pointed quote from director Steve Marmion was used to conclude the article, “art without an audience is just wanking.”

No need to read the article to follow my thought process, but if you’re interested, it’s a pretty quick read: Should Theatre Fund Audiences?

Writing aside, there is an important concept the article dances around that I feel current and aspiring theatre artists must meet in order to keep our medium vital: the role of the audience. Personally, I don’t think theatre is as much of an “if you build it they will come” sort of an entity as I’ve been wont to believe in the past. I think if you build it, and they know about it, and they want it, they may come. If they don’t have other plans already. And if it isn’t too expensive. If I’m invited to see a performance, I’m far more likely to go than if I stumble upon it amidst the excessive links on Facebook. Not that I’m against Facebook or online media by any means, I’m only posing an additional option. Can we get more personal with our audiences? My impulsive answer to this is “of course! We’ll have a talk back after the show!”

Is that the best we can do? Again, don’t get me wrong, i love a good talk back, but can we do more? Wine and cheese with the audience after the show. Looking them in the eyes. Making real conversation with the people who just took the time out of their lives to witness your work.

Better yet, can we step beyond this hope that people will turn up and bring the performance to them?

Lastly, I want to comment on the ending quote, “art without an audience is just wanking.” I think a word is missing here. As one online commentator so aptly points out, art without an audience is a rehearsal. Of course, rehearsals can have an audience as well, but an important addition to this is the consideration of who is seeing our work. An artist’s work is for the audience as much as it is for the artist. Some would argue that it is more for the audience. Regardless, it is to be seen, and those people who see it can be as much a part of the experience of performance as the performers themselves. To revise Marmion’s phrase, art without regards for an audience is just wanking.

About atweyenberg

Senior Theatre Arts major at Boston Univerity, currently enrolled in a Dramaturgy course! Excited about cross-sector work and community involvement.

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