Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hidin' in the jacks.

Toms again last night but you don’t wanna hear about that so, a few thoughts:

There’s a thing in the thayture, if you go to the thayture oftentimes. Oftentimes in the thayture they have what is called ‘an after-show discussion’. I’ve been to plenty, taken part in a couple, and sometimes even enjoyed them a bit more than the play. But on principle, I’m agin ‘em. I’m completely agin ‘em. I’d go so far as to say the damn things are immoral. I thought I’d explain me point of view.

On the face of it, an after-show discussion seems like the least immoral act possible.The people talk directly to the actors/author/director whoever, and find out what they think. They’re not for everyone, but they’re entirely voluntary events, a way of making a night ‘special’. Almost like a DVD commentary of the stage. What sort of twisted attitude dismisses such a harmless, audience-friendly and democratic event as ‘immoral’?
Well I’ll tell you what sort of twisted attitude dismisses them as immoral: the twisted attitude I have (and as somebody I know from Finland who is intelligent and perceptive and totally unconnected with theatre came independently to the same conclusion; I cant be completely mad).

I’ve tried to explain in the past why I think that they’re a bad idea but people judge your attitude from your position. If a person is reluctant to take part in ‘an after show discussion’, and they are one of the actors, then it’s fairly natural to presume that it is because they are an actor that they don’t want to do it.
As an ‘Actore’, maybe they’ve had enough of the audience by that stage, they could be plain tired, or maybe they are quite shy and reserved people when they’re not acting (some really are).
As an ‘Actore’, maybe they’re worried people will be critical, and that some articulate critic will point out the shortcomings of their performance in public.
As an ‘Actore’, maybe they’re just snobbish and want to maintain their distance from the crowd; maybe they believe that something of the ‘magic’ of ‘showbiz’ is being whittled away by this vulgar democratic trend where every plebs opinion is considered important.

That’s what people think of your objections as an ‘Actore’. And the same can be said of the ‘Playwright’ position, only it’s presumed; if you refuse to do one these things, that as a Playwright you must be gone so far up your own arse that you think that everything you do is so great and perfect that you’re already to good to learn anything from feedback. That’s what they think. I’ve seen ‘em. I’ve seen it in their eyes. They accept a ‘no’ but they don’t respect your decision. Oh no. ‘Up his own arse’ they say to themselves. I’ve heard ‘em.

People judge you by your position, so now that I’m not in a play and nobody wants me to do one of these things; I thought I’d outline my point of view. It’s not an excuse, this is something I just really feel in my heart and soul is just wrong.
The problem is in the situation. The problem is the unique environment it takes place in, and the assumptions behind it.
Here we have a veritable feast of incorrect notions that prop up ‘the after show discussion’ as a good and democratic thing. I call it ‘the feast of the Assumptions’:

#Assumption one:
Because the people have stopped clapping and are ready to leave;
the play is ‘over’.

This is only ever true from the point of view of the Actors at this time. To the audience member, a play is a raw and new experience. To analyse any experience we have had, in a meaningful way, we need the opportunity for reflection. Immediately after the play is way too soon.

#Assumption two:
People will be honest.

Yeah right. With all the actors, and maybe the writer too, right there in front of them. Some hope. I’ve tried to be honest myself in these situations, if you have any empathy at all to other human beings, it’s practically impossible.

#Assumption three:
There will be useful insights gained over time by the people involved in making it. Insights that can only be gained from going through the process; these insights will be of interest to the audience and help explain the work.

No lads. If you need to explain something afterwards then it wasn’t in the play. I know that it’s true that people are happier to leave the theatre not feeling bewildered, confused or cheated, and that an after-show discussion can help ameliorate these feelings. But that don’t make it right. If the people might go home happier, feeling: ‘Its’ not so bad after all’ or ‘I get it now’. Then their sense of the play has been warped. It is bad, you didn’t get it. Right first time. If the Actors and director didn’t express whatever useful insights they might have discovered in the performance then they failed.

#Assumption four:
There will be useful insights that occur to the outsider, but would never be noticed by someone so ‘close to the work’ as the creators.

This happens, in fact this always happens, and without it’s regular occurrence the whole gig would lose it’s magic. It’s one of the reasons why you never really know what the play even is until you put it on. But plays are designed for audiences to enjoy not for particularly perceptive individuals to find flaws in. If the insight is something that no-one else got, then in terms of an audience led experience, which is what a play is; it didn’t happen. Or it happened for one, and that’s nice but it doesn’t make that persons reaction more valid than the reaction of the person who didn’t notice it.

#Assumption five:
If the after-show discussion is properly managed, everyone will have an equal ‘voice.’

No they wont. People aren’t like that, from focus-groups to juries, any analysis shows that some people are just more persuasive than others and actively try to direct the opinions of those around them. Some people, perhaps without point, insight, interest or any other desire but the wish to be perceived as ‘articulate’, will ‘hog the air’ either re-iterating points that have gone before, or taking positions of opposition for the sake of it. Anyone who has ever been in an office meeting knows how a managed discussion can truly bring out the worst in some people.

Assumption six:
Because the play is over, people have made up their own minds.

This is where I find the after-show discussion ‘immoral’. The fact is, if we ignore Assumption#1 and really look at things; there hasn’t been enough time. If someone has a sense of the play, good or bad or otherwise, and then immediately afterwards they are placed in a situation of discussion, the way that discussion goes and whatever consensus is achieved, will colour their perception of their own experience for evermore.
We all like to think of ourselves as individuals with our own opinions, but a group of people who have been behaving like an audience already for an hour or so are more cohesive and easier to sway than a group the same size in off the street. In such an environment, it takes a strong will indeed to hold an alternative point of view and retain it. Basically, it’s immoral because instead of provoking thought and introspection, which is theatre’s noblest aim, the ‘after-show discussion’ promotes blind consensus in a manner not unlike the various group-managing techniques used by minor religions and that we usually call ‘brain-washing’.

As a maker of shows, you already have music, dialogue, emotion and story to manipulate peoples feelings with. That should be enough. If you want to overhear an honest and immediate response to your work, I personally recommend that you hide in one of the toilet cubicles at the end of the show and eavesdrop on whoever needed a slash towards the end. They’ll be honest about it. You mightn’t like what they have to say, but they’ll be honest.

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