Respect for the Audience
The other night I went to see live music. As with many music events, there was an opening band, followed by a headliner, which in this case was Rich Aucoin. If you haven’t checked out one of his shows, I highly recommend it. Rich’s music is upbeat, his show is theatrical and fun; he describes it as a sweaty sing-along dance party. The descriptor is accurate. Three hours after arriving, as the house lights came on and the crowd trickled out, I couldn’t help feeling like I cheated the performer. That show was definitely worth more than the fifteen dollars I paid for it. This realization exploded into questions and more thoughts about the worth of entertainment and what we owe our audiences.
Once we assign a ticket price to our show, we have turned our art into a product, and with that comes a certain amount of responsibility. We’re implying to our audience, that the show they’re purchasing a ticket to see, will be worth the price of admission. Remember, they could have spent that money on many other things: a movie ticket is cheaper than the price of an average theatre ticket. We are also implying that the time that they are setting aside (from the moment they step outside their cozy homes, leaving Netflix behind), and the effort they exert to make it to our show, is worth the trouble.
I’m sure there are artists who disagree with me. They believe that they don’t owe the audience anything, and they should be able to put anything on stage that they want. That’s fair, and I certainly don’t think we should limit our artistic endeavours and put on performances we think an audience would want, rather than creating pieces from our hearts. But we still need to take care of and respect the people coming to see our work, especially if we’re taking their money in return. So how do we pay respect to our audience without sacrificing our artistic goals?
Charge a ticket price that reflects the value of the show. How much time and energy did you put into your piece? If you were a random person, who knew no one involved in your production, who took the chance on seeing your piece, who paid the ticket price and gave up the time required, if that was you, would you feel it was a fair exchange? This is a challenging question to ask; it’s not easy to look at your work and deduce how others might value it. In this case, rather than trying to figure out if what you’re charging is appropriate, put your energy into making sure the quality of work on stage is worthy of what you’re asking from your audience.
If you are choosing to call yourself ‘professional’, and sharing that label with your audience, then live up to it: give them professional work. After all that’s what they’re paying for.
Mike Kennard, a member of the horror clown duo, Mump and Smoot, is a huge advocate of production value. ‘Even if you have no money in the production,’ he would say, ‘you need to make it look like you do’. A well acted, well directed and well rehearsed piece can add all the value necessary for an independent production. Why does this not happen all the time?
In independent productions, rehearsal time can sometimes be cut short, which just sets up the show for failure and lack of quality. I’ve heard the argument that rehearsals can be difficult to schedule if you can’t guarantee the actors will be paid for their time. Any actor who agrees to be apart of a profit share production understands that they aren’t being paid for their time the same way. If they consider themselves to be professional actors, they will want to rehearse, because that’s their job. Professional actors will do a lot of work outside the rehearsal room, to know their lines, to do their character work, to make the most of limited rehearsal time, but they still need to rehearse together, with a director as an outside eye. If the goal is to put on a professional show, the excuse doesn’t hold up. And though the intention might be to respect the actors, in the end it doesn’t, because without adequate rehearsal, or well used rehearsal, the show can not be of a professional quality, which does no one one stage calling themselves professional, any good. And this argument disrespects the audience; what about their time and money? Why are they paying the cost of seeing a professional show to be given something mediocre, underrehearsed, and not thought out?
Many of us have heard the old adage, at every show it’s one audience member’s first time at the theatre, and it’s one audience member’s last time. For some, that first time will be their last time, because the show will turn them off from ever taking that risk with their wallets or time again. It’s our responsibility as theatre creators to support each other and our industry by putting on quality work.
When I saw Rich Aucoin’s show I was blown away by the production value I received. He clearly put a lot of effort into giving his audience a great experience. He and his band knew his music inside and out, he was aware of sight lines and made sure his audience could see the action, his sound system was clear, and his lights and on screen video and visuals was effective and slick. He delivered a tight, polished, rehearsed and energetic show. He was a passionate entertainer who, by respecting his audience, inspired passion within us. Isn’t that what great theatre is? Why do anything less?