FROM SOUTHERN REP, New Orleans, LA A CONVERSATION IN RESPONSE TO NEW PLAY PANEL When you talk about diversity – what does that really mean? If your audience doesn’t reflect that – what is diverse? If you want a diverse audience, are you doing work that would reflect that? Only the institution knows what kinds of work it wants to do. They have to decide they really want that. The most diversity in New Orleans is found in education. If you look at the artists in the city, you’re a completely different kind of person than most of the rest of the city. The kind of work that the audience really responds to might not be about quality – it might be about the way they (the audience) are spoken to. Diversity for each organization might be different. When Ameriville came to New Orleans (from the company Universes) – it took a collaboration of four companies to bring those audiences to the theatre. Whatever the aesthetics of the institutions are defines its audience. What is aesthetics? › How you communicate to your audience, what your work looks like, sounds like? How does development of new work and new audiences work? What is successful? – George Wolfe at the Public Theatre – went into the community, churches (Noise/Funk, Angels in America) -- they took their theatre to the community. Educating their audience. You gotta get into your neighborhoods and do the grassroots work. Calling upon what John O’Neal said at a convening last week– we have to actually provide a service to our community – what do they need? It takes a lot of confidence – to let your audience know they are worthy of the conversation –that you respect and want them to be a part of the conversation – that the conversation happens because of them. Have a gigantic problem with the notion of educating your audience. It sounds so pretentious. Okay -- For example, if you bring an international group to a community that isn’t used to seeing it – you have to do something that helps bridges the gap to let an audience know who they are, what it’s about, so they feel a connection to it. Through workshops, conversations. More about relationships and less about educating. Community engagement, rather than education. This is less about new play development – this is more about organizations, and less about playwrights and nurturing. This isn’t about voices, this about how to present and their structures. But if those playwrights can’t be produced – they won’t ever develop. That is why it is part of the conversation. If there is a limit of “how often” you can create this process, you are giving consideration to how well a play would be responded to by a community. At the core of every theatre is the person running it and their aesthetic. Ultimately, you are going to see work that speaks to them, that they respond to. As a writer, you’re dealing so much with the economics about how it works – and after we settle all of that, we’ll get to the writer and their process. First you start with the theatre, their mission, their audience, their budget. And – does your play match up with what they want to do. If you write a play, and it isn’t part of their mission – that theatre should be left to do what they want to do. But if that theatre is truly seeking diversity, then there is a conversation to be had. If the community isn’t diverse, and the community isn’t demanding it – then do they need to change? But there have been many conversations about we aren’t meeting our mission. Many playwrights miss the development stuff. There are a lot of organizations that exist to help develop the playwright. That play company knows how to develop it, and how to match it with the companies who will respond to them. There seem to be more and more ways for playwrights to get connected to companies. Like NNPN – you’ve got 26 theatres there who want to produce new plays. Once a playwright gets their work in and produced by one of those theatres – suddenly 26 theatres are aware of it. Relationships are key. And it takes time to build those. Question – once you establish those relationships, particularly if they are local – should that trump incoming work? What’s great about what is happening in New Orleans, you’ve got all of these companies of young people saying, I want to do work. And they are getting together, and just putting it up. As a writer, you would love for a well known institution to latch on to your work – but if you wait for that, you won’t get produced. Is it more important to work or to make sure your work gets done? The overwhelming feeling is that no, you have to keep writing. One of the things that New Orleans could use is writers being developed more – supported in order to link new writers work in new Orleans to stuff that goes on in the rest of the country. So that we don’t exist in a bubble. How do writers get their work out there? Is there a reason that writers can’t self organize? They shouldn’t wait for an institution. It’s a great thing about New Orleans – it’s such a small community. Most people multi specialize – you have a group of playwrights who act, direct, produce for each other. Most artists I know (playwright) – most of them created ensembles, took initiative – and from that, eventually attention came from institutions. Camilla Forbes – that Hip Hop organization came out of an idea and passion. It didn’t start with Money. Joe Papp with The Public – they started out on a flat bed truck. People tell me its better now -- the work, than before Katrina. There is more work coming from different places – more texture. The convening, the talking, the sharing – that is the place to start. If you don’t share and collaborate, you can’t complain. You do have a limitation. You do have responsibility to relationships you have already built. Can you pay a literary manager to even find the work, let alone produce it. If the problem is that you have more work than you have places – you have to start more places. I like the idea of a church basement – trinity church has one of the best concert spaces in the city. Artists maybe start to crave more polish – but maybe that’s about collaboration. PART II Interacting with the larger world more deliberately. To be less about how do we get people in, to share our wisdom – and more about how do we get into the world, and do work that comes from our community, and speaks to them. But is that the function of art? Doesn’t it have to start from a creator? We had talked about forming a marketing collaborative – we would choose 3 bloggers who would write about what was happening. Who had seen and be seen. Critique. And discussion of the work – back story. › But someone has to pay for it, to do it, to market it. The marketing and reviews need to come from the theatre community. Is the public responding to reviews anymore? If not, what are they responding to? Well – Social Networking. But then we are missing the step of critical review. Especially in a small community. Next steps & challenges › Talk about taking theatre out to the community. Go to them, rather than waiting for them to come to you.
ACTION STEP -- I see Mardi Gras and Festivals as an opportunity. Can’t we put theatre on a truck, and take it around the city? A Flat Bed Series. Bring an amp. It’s a great way to take theatre to the community. A moveable outdoor space. If you plant the truck at the end of a parade, you’ve got your audience. (There was a group that performed from the back of a Uhaul during the fringe – and tweeted their location) › The NOLA fringe is 3 years old – it grew up so quickly. Would like to see more work that is done in that place – frequent, simple. Like Dad’s Garage – there is a show every week, that changes, its new, it changes ever week. The New Futurists – they remove one more short piece every week and put in something new. In NOLA downtown, we’re beginning to build a new audience, if we can keep them… › RE: What Amy Freed says – in trying to retrofit theatre to a younger audience. Is it dumbing it down? › When Ads talk about diversity – they are talking about how to get a younger audience … I don’t think you can ignore it. › We had a noticeably young audience at our new play work this past week – and it could have been a lot about - $5, and short plays. And we had a lot of young writers and actors, who brought their friends, and those friends who brought friends. We have to figure out how to get them in again. › Contests, parties --- but does that mean we can’t do real theatre and get a real audience › Well, does an audience who watches 10 minute plays, then come back and see a full length play? › Theatre is a risk – 75% of the time, it sucks. So you have to be up for the experience – and you’re only up for that risk if you are really committed to theatre. And if the tickets are $25, that adds to the risk. › Length isn’t an issue – its cost and location. › But the space has to stay available and affordable. › If its good work, people will come, and they will sit through it. But I do wonder what will happen to that group of kids who are looking at their phones. Give them 5-10 years and see what they do › “As a young person” we change gears very quickly – and appreciate new kinds of stimulus every few minutes, and can then sit through the longer works. (“But do you understand how jarring that is to an older person?”) › Young people still sit through movies, though. It’s about access, marketing and price. › In New Orleans, everything needs to be social. You give people a chance to see work, but be active and social before during and after. › If it needs to be social, how do you get them to talk about the work that they just saw? › If you look at FELA – the experience is about the total experience of the theatre -- it was environment that was created from walking in to the theatre ACTION STEP – Collective Marketing -- You can get stuff online for free. You can get that funded – we need to organize the talent, the writers, photographers, and create it. We need to be more visible. How do we get new audience. Not even talking about diversity – just talking about audience, any audience. Outside of the artists – do other people know about it? Do people in our city come to the plays? If the official artform is music -- can we work to be as accessible? If you look at the New York model – there is a whole ecosystem that has come from spoken word. This is an audience that is developing in New Orleans. ACTION STEP– Why can’t theatre be the cartoon before the band starts? Just to build an audience, get them excited about live theatre. This is about thinking again how can we go TO the audience. Theatre in New Orleans has to be an event. It has to fall down on top of you. It has to be accessible, cheap, and something you can decide to do at the last minute. As artists, we have to be multi-disciplinary. We can’t just do our one thing.
A long time theatre blogger, Travis is the Artistic Director of Cambiare Productions and a contributing writer to 2amTheatre.com. Travis holds a degree in Theatre (Secondary Education) from the University of New Hampshire and is currently posted in scenic St. Paul Minnesota..
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