Come Early And Watch

I really love watching productions come together. Last night I was watching a dress rehearsal for a show we are opening on Friday. I always do so around this time so I can spot any audience related concerns that didn’t occur to anyone to tell me. I usually watch for things like strobe use, characters entering from the audience that will necessitate holding late seating or people returning from restrooms. I also keep an eye out for things that might offend audiences despite assurances that there is nothing offensive in the show. (Yeah, right)

I give feedback on the production. I don’t engage in any of the meddling for which producers are stereotypically infamous. Generally I just talk about things that confused me because of costuming, point out some overacting that went on while the director was looking elsewhere or note that people were bumping the scrim during backstage crossovers.

A recent development I have been pleased to see is the migration of staging techniques from our smaller experimental Lab Theatre space to our Mainstage. In that space activity begins as people are being seated prior to the performance, segues in the performance proper and through the intermission. What I have liked is that the action has been appropriate for the performance and has engaged the audience’s interest. Seats are filled well before the show begins so there is no need to chase people in from the lobby or wait while stragglers pick up tickets.

Beyond guaranteeing order and promptness, I appreciate that this is a step away from the pattern of arrive, sit quietly during the show, leave. People can talk during the pre-show and intermission or watch as they please. It also gives the performers an opportunity to create something original within the bounds of the production circumstances. They can develop their character a little more. Infrequently seen characters can get a little more performance time.

My hope is that something more evolves out of it and takes theatre to the next stage in engaging the audience. My fear is that the practice will move from appropriate to gratuitous as people decide it is a cool thing to do and attempt to include it in every performance. Not only will it be ill considered artistically, but it can also halt the evolution I hope for if people get stuck in the rut.

The mainstage production we are opening doesn’t actually incorporate original work but rather uses a song from the script as a musical interlude during the intermission to lead back into the show. One consideration in attempting what I have described here is that inclusion of original work before and in the middle of a performance may run counter to the intent of the creator and invalidate your performance license. You may also run into copyright infringement. Our Lab space has done out of copyright works or added the action with the approval (and some times participation) of the playwright.

None of things mean it is a bad idea. I am sure this not a unique idea and other theatres regularly use these techniques. In fact, I am pretty sure at best it may be a new take on a very old idea.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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