Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Don Hall Responds

Don Hall wrote a response to my query about his thoughts on a critic like Jenna Sherer at the Weekly Dig.

Far from banning her from performances, Don says, "bring it on!" But there is so much more to his response that is worth reading. He talks about avante-garde and fringe theatre in general, but he also talks about the differences in audiences between cities:

I've noticed that in New York at least (I can't speak to the fringe scene in Boston) that the audience is a bit more European in their approach to theater. Joel Jeske once told me that in NYC, you can put up anything and it will get some sort of audience because going to the theater is a priority for New Yorkers. Theater is a part of the leisure activity scene.

Chicago, while having a thriving theater community, does not have a thriving theater audience.

Simply put, the Chicago audience, in general, will put up with a lot of high concept, intellectual, avant-garde shows but they will not, under any circumstances, put up with being bored.

What struck me is the distinction Don makes between theater community and the theater audience.

I went to see The Departed last night and, (sitting in a jam packed theater full of Bostonians,) I had a great time, and noticed the absolute blast the audience was having. Though the film is not at all the definitive Boston movie that some suggest it is, it revels in the attitude and patois of the area.

We, as an audience, were also all responding to the underlying corruption and tangled alliances between crime, cops and legislators that this city has experienced. Although, I guess we are like any other city whose current political system was birthed in patronage.

But the brief glimpses of Matt Damon's crooked cop staring at the dome of the State House longingly, just seem to strike a unique chord of cynicism and shame in a Massachusetts audience. Whitey Bulger, ( whom Jack Nicholson's character is based,) commited outright terrorism on the city of Boston for decades, while his brother Billy ran the Mass legislature.

Just for the record Boston went throught the hurricane of the Priest Abuse Scandal through the late nineties and early 2000's. And in all the time since, only one theatre production has dealt directly with that scandal. Sin, A Cardinal Deposed which was written by a Los Angeles writer from the transcripts of Cardinal Law's deposition, and produced by....a Chicago Company, Bailiwick Repertory Theatre.

I loudly spoke out about this at the time, basically saying that our neighbors were suffering and we as artists did nothing to try and help us make sense of this artistically. I think people misunderstood what I was asking for, most of the comments about my statements indicated that people believed I was advocating more "ripped from the headlines," or documentary theatre.

(For the record, in 2002, our local playwright Ronan Noone did write The Lepers of Baile Baiste, a fantastic play which deals with priest sexual abuse in Ireland, which was produced here in Boston.)

My question is: (and I would be very interested to see if what Scott Walters thinks,) Is there, or should there be a line between the theatre community and the theatre audience?

1 comment:

Stephen said...

I think there is a huge difference between the two. I community with thrive with or without an audience at all. They make theatre because it is a fundamental part of their life. An audience participates in theatre as a matter of choice, in the same manner with which they decide what they will do with their evening. The business of theatre depends on an audience. The art of theatre does not. In short, I feel as though the community paricipates, while the audience observes and is (hopefully) entertained.
I'm just starting out in Chicago theatre, and this distinction has made itself quite clear to me very quickly...