Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bil - Feedback (Loud and Clear)

On Thursday night I saw the opening performance of "The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon" down in Pilsen, and I can't stop talking about how much I loved it.  Being that I wasn't part of the rehearsal process on this show, and not having seen the completed set, I really didn't know what to expect.  I'd read the script, and I knew the cast and crew are incredibly talented, but still I was surprised.  I can't say enough how proud I am of Dream Theatre Company for making one of the most magical nights of theatre I have seen in a long, long time.  I haven't cried in about ten years, but I came damn close to crying during this play.

I'm still kind of starry-eyed about it, even on a Saturday after not enough sleep all week long.  And of course, I'm thinking to myself: how can I convince people that haven't seen the show that it really is as good as I'm saying it is?

And so, while causally loitering in a Starbucks at a mall in the suburbs like some jerk, I see a note posted on good ol' Facebook blasting theatres in this town for being a bunch of jerks.  I'll repost it here, because I kind of want everybody to read it, but because of the controversy it will inevitably spark, I'll keep it anonymous:

Dear Theatre
Okay I'm not much of one for Facebook notes and publicly stating any sort of real opinion on social media, but I've got something to say. THEATER SUCKS!!! You heard me!  THEATER. SUCKS. I moved to Chicago looking for good theater. Inspiration. Excitement. Passion.... Please. I'd rather go to the dentist. Offended yet? Good. I'm offended by theater. We've forgotten our audience. We've forgotten why we are doing this... or maybe I've just decided that our reason for doing it, isn't good enough anymore.

I look at theaters desperately trying to fill seats as more and more theaters file for bankruptcy. Theaters constantly having talks about how to get the younger generation excited about theater as their subscribers just get older and older. Well honestly... have you tried?

What I see is a group of people so desperate to create a place for their voice to be heard, that they've created an art that only they can appreciate. Its boring. Its heady. Its... uggghhh.

We are living in a time when our lives are bombarded with intensity and tragedy. There is a reason why our generation doesn't seem to want to grow up. We are desperately looking for a release. An escape. Wars, tsunamis, foreclosures. We don't want to think anymore. We have to think every day just to survive.

If you want to up your sales and get the younger generation into your theaters, give them a way to escape. Why do you think Glee is dominating television? I don't know about you, but I just want to be able to find a place where for 5 minutes a day, I can forget that I can barely pay my bills, or that any day now, some country might nuke us. Give people a reason to feel happy again. With divorce rates as high as they are, why would I want to watch another play about an unhappy couple. Show me a love story. Give me reason to believe in relationships.

I will say that the thought provoking plays have a place in this world. Art should be used to make people think. But know who is going to be doing the thinking on the receiving end and remember that this isn't about your crusade. Its about your story. And yes, even in the theater, stories can end in hope. Actors DO know how to smile.

Now can you please try wearing some colors?
You can imagine how offended I was until I read the sentence asking if I was offended yet.  Then it occurred to me that this is feedback from a theatre-goer.

As a theatre artist, especially one in Chicago, it's easy to get defensive and shrug this message off with a how-dare-you-insult-this-great-city and a you-expect-too-much or a you-just-don't-get-it-do-you attitude.

But I refuse to do that.  This message was written in earnest, and posted on Facebook for all theatre and non-theatre personnel to see.


Theatres are businesses, too, and audience members are our customers, and what should a business do if they want to attract more customers?  Listen to customer feedback.

So, yeah, theatre community – looking for ways to attract younger audiences?  Rule number one ought to be: listen to young audience members.

Feedback from younger audiences is rare.  More often than not a young audience will give up on an art form that fails to please rather than make any effort to try & improve it.  What we get with the above Facebook post is almost invaluable.

True, the post is not specific feedback, not geared at any one specific theatre company, but I've always thought of the theatre community as one big family, and so really, this message is for all of us.  We all need to bring the magic.  All the time.  We need to make it worth someone's time and worth their money to come out & see the products of our hard work.  Our time is valuable, but so is theirs.  We need to be accessible.  We need to be open.  We need to be honest.  We need to ditch the egos and create some wonder.  We need to be – in the parlance of our times – awesome.

And I will state once again how proud I am to be part of Dream Theatre Company.  These artists work hard, they make it easy to go see a play, they give the audience a show they'll be thinking about for weeks or even months afterward, and for all the "edginess" and the "fringe persona" of this company, they truly show the goodness of human beings.  It's fun to see plays here.  And after each play, the cast is available to talk to in the lobby, devoid of snootiness and pretensions, and eager to hear whether you liked it or not.
You can talk to them.

But because no theatre company should pretend to be perfect, we remain open to criticism.  If you want something from us that you didn't get or don't think you will get, or anything you think we could do better, please talk to us.  We're here.  We have ears and brains.  We'll use them, I promise.

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