Commentary: Kill post-show sessions and get audience juiced before the show

Frank Rizzo, Hartford Courant , 8/29/12

Studies show that audiences want more from their theaters than simply what they see on the stage, however well-done. They want engagement, they want a social dynamic, they want to feel connected to the art as well as each other. They want to feel invested in the theater. One of the tried-and-true ways that theaters have traditionally done this (more tired-and-true in so many cases) is the post-show discussion. But perhaps theaters can take a cue from their counterparts in the dance and symphony worlds by having pre-show discussions. At the end of show -- especially a long one -- audiences generally want to exeunt all. But getting an audience to understand the world of the play before they see might be another matter and make for a richer experience once the show begins. And a happier exit once it's over. This, I think, would be most effective in historic or classic works. Imagine attending a discussion led by a talented theater person (with some stage presence, please; perchance the director who might have the most enthusiasm for the production). Suddenly the context of the play's times, the complexities of the narrative and even the nuances the production so wants to achieve might actually be appreciated rather than resting on the thin hope that theater-goers are reading those ambitiously designed program notes. Of course you wouldn't want to give anything away in the play and original shows may be best just to experience without any pre-conceived notions. But maybe not. For some works, pre-show connection might just be one way to further bond with an audience.


Two arts leaders discuss pre-show vs post-show activities

Joe Patti on his blog Butts In The Seats, 9/26/12

[In] an audio interview, Richard Evans of EMCArts interviews Charles Fee of Great Lakes Theater Company and David Shimotakahara, Artistic Director of GroundWorks DanceTheater about their thoughts and practices related to audience engagement. [I learned that Great Lakes conducts] their fight and dance calls in full view of the audience during that 90 minute period before the show (which often confuses audiences who feel they are intruding upon something). After the show, they don't have a formal talk back but rather have the actors go out for a glass of wine and chat with whomever might be interested. Fee mentions they don't have a post-show talk back because he feels it is unfair to turn to the audience immediately after the show and ask them what they think. I can personally empathize with this sentiment because it often takes me quite some time to process what my feelings about a performance are. GroundWorks DanceTheater offers a similar pre-show experience of necessity because they are often in non-traditional spaces where there isn't a curtain to mask their activity or a separate studio to warm up in. Preparations are often done in full view of the arriving audience. Fee mentions he has no problem with including those experiences in the show, but that the nature of the show changes to that of a circus. "It is no longer an aesthetic experience because the aesthetic distance has been shattered."


Pre-show interactive activities kick off Kids' Night on B'way event in St. Louis

Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation [St. Louis, MO] website, 8/21/12

Kids' Night on Broadway is a national initiative sponsored by The Broadway League. For this special day we offer adults the opportunity to purchase a ticket and receive a child's admission free to a wonderful performance [of The Lion King] at The Fabulous Fox Theatre. The performance [was] kicked off by lots of interactive activities prior to the show. More than 1400 kids attended, including young people who volunteered to help with the pre-show activities either as performers, greeters or by helping other kids get 'crafty'. More than 100 people stayed after the performance for a Q&A with actors who portrayed Simba, Scar, Zazu and Pumbaa as well as the show's company manager and a wardrobe technician. Pre-show activities included:

  • African dance and drumming performed by Afriky Lolo's young dancer group
  • Craft Alliance artists worked with young people to create their own African Storybook    
  • "A Show is Born" the Musical, a mini-musical about what all it takes to put together a Broadway show; performed by some superbly talented St. Louis high school students
  • Kids artfully personalized their very own headdress; inspired by The Lion King
  • Representatives from STAGES Performing Arts Academy, COCA and DaySpring School of the Arts [shared] information about their Fall semester performing arts classes.

Commentary: Hitting the first pitch out of the park

William Squier, Breaking Character blog, 9/13/12

They have a cool tradition at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in Auburn, New York. At the end of the theater's pre-show announcements, where a member of the staff typically welcomes the audience, reminds them of upcoming productions and asks that they turn off their cell phones, a single, long-stem carnation is thrown out into the crowd. A jolt of excitement runs through the house as playgoers scramble to catch it! It's just the kind of energy that you want to feel from an audience right before the curtain rises - one that signals that they're alert and focused.


A performance with pre-show, during-show and post-show audience interaction

Alison Sargent, City Arts [Seattle, WA], 9/12/12

Seattle Confidential [presented at ACT] is the social theatre experiment of curator and host Ian Bell, who conceived of the series as a way to take snapshots of the collective Seattle psyche. Each show is built around a theme chosen in advance by Bell, who curates the evening's entertainment around a half-dozen or so personal stories and poems submitted by Seattleites under pseudonyms and read aloud by local actors. Seattle theatre talents Emily Chisholm, Erin Stewart and Kimberly Nyhous were the readers in an evening of stories written by women, who for the first time made up 99.9% of submissions. Bell intersperses survey data gathered in the months leading up to the show, projecting bar graphs and word clouds onto a center stage screen. The resulting experience feels like a college sociology lecture walked into confessional hour at a slumber party. Audience members are asked to keep their cell phones on and respond via text to polls throughout the show. During intermission the screen displays a steady stream of audience members' most memorable summer jobs ranging from WASHPIRG canvasser to cow inseminator. Bell doesn't miss an opportunity -- even the pre- and post-show musical playlist is compiled from survey responses to "favorite Top-40s summer hit."
Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."