Sing it with me!
“You know it’s hard out here for a…theater (you aint knowin)/When they try to get this money for the rent (you aint knowin)/For the marketing and commission money spent (you aint knowin)/Will have a whole lotta actors jumpin’ ship!”
I know what you’re thinking…cynical Sydney always talkin’ ish! But let me play devil’s advocate today. I know how important it is to market your brand, generate buzz for a project, stack the cast with familiar names and players and hope to the great Jebus that an audience shows up to pay that exorbitant ticket price. But today I want to play the advocate who thinks this is plain hogwash! Does a Lort Theater need to market in the same way a Store Front Theater should?
I saw this thing where Suzan-Lori Parks is writing in the lobby of the Public Theater in NY. Apparently you can watch her work live or via LiveStream online, you can join in and write your own plays or just observe. When I first heard of this idea, I thought...sounds dope! Wouldn't it be nice to rub elbows with a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright? But after looking at the video I felt disenfranchised. Why did they Janet Jackson her? Meaning, why is there a Velvet Rope? The description of the "performance" feels a little like Marina Abramović's The Artist is Present. From the description it made me feel like it was a collective and collaborative session. When I saw the rope, the small typewriter (no computer here) and timer I felt a little cheated. The hash tags on Twitter and the Livestream video seem contrived. Are we in such a recession that we have to drum up buzz this early about the play? Why doesn't she ever leave the space? Move around? I can't imagine what we are really protecting her from? Albeit, the description says, "This performance piece, a meditation on the artistic process and an actual work session, features Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks working on her newest writing project in the main lobby of The Public Theater." Yeah, yeah...I get it. I still stand by my original thought. It had me thinking; what is the purpose of the "performance?" Is she "doing" something to generate ideas? It seems a bit mental. I can't physically watch her mind create thoughts, dialogue and themes. Wouldn't it have been more helpful if she spoke her thoughts out loud? If it's a performance piece and the ideas, thoughts, and work are protected through copyright then let's hear it. Let's see how you craft an idea that morphs into a play. Go all the way!
When I see this type of “performance” it makes me think of visual artist who paint live while audience participants sip wine and mingle at a downtown art show. Normally at the end of that experience, they are “raffling” off the piece. Maybe Parks should raffle her ideas. Just a thought.
In a similar vein, theater companies and artist are going to great lengths to open the doors of creativity to their audience. Arena Stage Theater in Washington D.C. is excited about Marcus Gardley’s newest play “every tongue confess“.
A couple of years ago, theater realized that if it was to stay relevant and competitive, it needed to create commercials, behind-the-scenes footage, and commentary on the work. I think it had a lot to do with ego and ticket sales. Here you are, working on a piece for 3 months and no one comes to see it? These videos should be called “Look, we are really doing something here…we’re creatin’ art people!” High art at that.
These theaters have been around for years! Decades! It’s interesting how they are using these “store-front” theater tactics in order to get butts in the seat. I’m not hatin’…I’m just sayin’. I just hope it’s working. Hell, wouldn’t you want to see a show staring Phylicia Rashad and directed by Kenny Leon. Just watching this rehearsal and hearing the thoughts of the playwright and director makes me wanna fly to D.C.
Maybe if I didn’t feel like it was taking away from the smaller companies’ potential audience then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I don’t think any of these theaters were thinking of this Watch Me Work while they were planning their behind-the-scenes videos and “performance art.” But wouldn’t that be interesting if they had a little fun? Could you imagine Ms. Rashad “hittin’ the flex” in rehearsal? Just a thought.