Who are we making theatre for?
The obvious answer to this question, is for the audience.
But who is our audience?
The answer to this question depends on the theatre or company itself. A Mirvish audience is not the same as a Factory theatre audience, which is not the same as an Alumnae Theatre audience. These theatres have built up an audience that has certain values and wants a certain kind of theatrical experience.
Theatre is a niche market in itself; it asks a lot of an individual audience member: to give up the comfort of their home, pay a relatively high ticket price (even on the lower end, the prices are still more expensive than a movie ticket), and invest in a specific time period, to watch a show, amongst others, that the audience member has no guarantee of enjoying or finding fulfillment in.
Theatre companies attempt to qualm the fears of their audience and engage others who share their values, by creating mandates that specify what kind of shows they present. By sharing what their vision of theatre is, they attempt to attract an audience that will appreciate their work.
That’s all well and good, but what does it mean for independent theatre artists?
Imagine for a moment that none of the theatre companies that you have ever dreamed of being hired by exist. There is no Tarragon, Soulpepper, or Stratford. Now imagine you get to create your own company. What would your mandate be? What kind of theatre would you create if you were creating for yourself, and your vision of theatre? What would you create if getting hired by a larger theatre wasn’t even on the table?
There’s this special bit of wisdom that I keep hearing in different ways in my creative research, which is “the more you connect with your work, the more it will connect with others”. This doesn’t mean you need to tell your story (although you might), it means you need to tell stories that you want to hear. When you try to create work hoping that others will like it, you can’t fully engage with it, because what you care about is not the work, but the praise you are hoping to receive. Let go of placing praise and acceptance as indicators of good work. Good work is the kind that you, as an audience member, would choose to go see. The funny thing is, that by putting on work you would see, you will find your audience. Know what you value in story-telling, be specific and clear about it, and be consistent with creating work that adheres to it, and then give it to your audience.
You can’t please everyone, and you will do yourself a disservice if you try to create work you would never want to see. If you are creating hoping to entice a larger theatre company or to impress your peers, you are not creating from your artistic centre. Of course, learn and be inspired by other artists who you admire, but remember, that they became the artists they are by creating work they wanted to see. They became inspirational to you, and they developed their audience (of which you are apart) by sharing their specific vision.
So, who are you making theatre for?