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Lisa Mallette, Executive Artistic Director
City Lights Theater Company
San Jose, California
1) How can we form the ideal partnership between audience and play?
2) How can audience response strengthen our artistic work?
3) How can we embolden audiences to grapple with increasingly challenging work?
Since we regard the audience as a vital partner in the activation of new work, we consistently encourage them to respond with analytical—instead of evaluative—language. Observations that illuminate the work (“the ending made me think about X, but I don’t know why”) instead of dismiss it (“the ending was confusing”) deepen the partnership between artist and audience.
Thus, every level of Woolly Mammoth’s work, from ticket discounts to fundraising letters, reinforces this message of analysis instead of evaluation. We hope to empower audiences to trust their own responses to complex work, neutralizing the impact of mainstream critics who may dismiss a play as too risky or avant-garde to be a “sure thing.” If we enable feedback like “good” or “bad,” the dialogue around even the most popular work will have limited depth. However, if we give audiences the tools and confidence to investigate why a given play gets under their skin, any response—even a negative one—is a valid part of our partnership.
We make sure to let audiences know that our partnership with them has a great impact on our artistic work. Their ability to perceive and articulate meaning – whether by laughing, crying, gasping, applauding, or asking a question in a post-show discussion – allows artists to test and refine their craft. Very often our artists actively use the audience to help determine “whether the story we’re telling is the story we think we’re telling.”
Miriam Weisfeld, Director of Artistic Development
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Audience impact / feedback data has a substantial role in determining the choices the Theatre makes – artistically and otherwise – even as we hold firmly to the ideal that our artistic choices must made by artists, not by committees or audiences. For example, feedback has helped us gauge audience comfort with various types of non-traditional (non-linear, non-narrative) theatrical forms; While data never determines artistic programming, it does inform the process by which the Theatre’s artistic leadership selects programming.]]>
David Kilpatrick, Executive Director
La Crosse Community Theatre
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Because the creation of a play is about process—we do not know what a play will become when we select it—we rely on our passions and the passions of the artists involved to bring our productions to life on the stage. We then have to let the audience have a relationship with the work. If we fail to connect our audiences to our work, we view that as cause for great concern.
Terrence J. Nolen, Producing Artistic Director
Arden Theatre Company