Commentary: Talking after the show

Playwright Gwydion Suilebhan, Theatre Face blog, 10/19/11

Are you one of those people who likes to talk about the show right after you see it? If not in the lobby, or even in the aisle on the walk out to the lobby, then at a bar or restaurant nearby or on the ride home? I'm one of those people. I'm not talking about "That play was poorly-written" or "She was terrific in that role" or "Could you believe that moment in Act II?" I'm talking about deeper, more substantive discussions: what the play made you think, feel, wonder, re-evaluate, understand, question, and so on. Talking after the show -- right after the show, when those new thoughts are fresh and living -- allows the play to do more work on the audience. Talking allows those thoughts to begin to combine, to share DNA, to propagate from one mind to the next, to take hold in others, to possess people and carry them to new places. Talking carries the play forward out of the theater, onto the street, and into the world as a whole.  Inasmuch as any work of art consists, holistically, of the work itself AND the person or people interacting with the work, talking after the show would seem to me to be the completion of the artwork, actually: a necessary part of its existence. If all of this is true, then, what can we be doing to encourage talking after the show? So often, it seems our theaters are geared toward ushering people out onto the street seconds after the show is over. "You don't have to go home," we tell our audiences, "but you can't stay here." What if we gave people a place to converse? Filled our lobbies with couches and served drinks and snacks after the show -- not only for the people who just watched the play, but for anyone who might like to come in off the street and join the conversation? If the theater itself isn't the right place to induce conversation -- if people might be worried about what the actors and playwrights and so on might overhear -- then why don't we create a safe conversation space somewhere right next door? Or is there some way to redesign our theaters architecturally to mitigate against this concern? Would this sort of thing be useful? If so, why haven't we done it already? What are the obstacles? Because I think it might do us some good.


Commentary: Pittsburgh arts venue where the audience talk IS the show

Daniel McCloskey, blog, 10/17/11

The Waffle Shop is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants live variety talk show and restaurant. It opened in October of 2008 as a two semester social experiment for an art class at Carnegie Mellon University. Two years after the experiment was scheduled to end, I found myself on the smallish stage tag-team ad-libbing a fantasy story with the local writer and zinester Artnoose while a man pantomimed our tale in a full gorilla costume. Carnegie Mellon professors joke that the Waffle Shop was made to prepare art students for working in the food industry post graduation, but the project is 50 percent food at most. The employees encourage the audience/customers to make their own talk show or performance, and often get onstage themselves. All the while a small crew is bustling around what might be called the "tech nook" between the stage and kitchen. The folks changing levels, cutting video, and clipping mics are as busy as the servers. They're the ones maintaining the link between the physical shop and where the performances stream as they happen in real life. Outside artists who are attracted by the odd format and captive audience sometimes take it upon themselves to bring something different or special to the shop, which is why my friend Gabe McMorland (the guy sweating in a gorilla suit) invited me and Artnoose to bring an hour of off the cuff fiction to the middle of the late morning waffle rush.  The Waffle Shop project blurs the line between performer and audience member, between web presence and physical presence, and ultimately re-imagines what a performance venue can be.


Study: Observations on post-performance engagement for dance audiences

Excerpt from WolfBrown survey for Dance/USA, "How Dance Audiences Engage" (page 46 of PDF)

By far, the dominant way that dance buyers reflect upon and make meaning after a live dance performance is by discussing the performance with friends or family members on the way home.

> Since almost 80% of all buyers reported that they already do this activity "regularly" or "always," the latency score is very low. This should not be taken to mean that the activity is not important, or that it doesn't require further thought.

While dance presenters tend to focus on in-venue activities such as post-performance discussions, few have considered how to stimulate discussion outside of their venues - which is where the conversation is already happening, according to the survey results.

> Could this be as simple as handing out a list of questions that audience members can ask each other on the way home, or routinely printing such a list of questions in the program book?

> What other tactics would engaging audience members in self-guided conversation about the program afterwards?

The latency analysis suggests that dance buyers want more post-performance discussion opportunities, both with and without the involvement of artists.

> A great deal of experimentation and testing is underway now with respect to different approaches to post-performance discussion (e.g., the Walker Art Center's "Speakeasy" format, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' "Download" format). Hopefully, the field will soon have a guidebook or similar resource with best practices for engaging audiences after performances.

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