I went to see a play last week, and had a very interesting experience, which I both wanted to share with you, and hear your opinion on.
I do publicity for the production company of Capilano University’s theatre department, Exit 22. They do four shows a year, two smaller, and two mainstage. Their most recent production was Romeo + Juliet, which just closed this past Saturday.
I thought the show was quite well done–I often think/talk/blog about how we are going to create a new generation of
theatre-goers, and this show fit that bill quite nicely. It bridged the original Shakespearean text with segments of the actors talking about the play. The actors were what they were–young–and how to address the problem of producing a play that requires older actors when you have none was one of the challenges that they met head-on. It was also sexier and more violent than a lot of Shakespeare I’ve seen. In other words, this was a play by young people, for young people.
The day I went to see it was a weekday matinee, that was mostly populated by high school students. It was a very interesting experience. The students wanted to know if they could take pictures, or video, and when they couldn’t, amused themselves by taking pictures of themselves and their friends at intermission. And they were a little noisy. This, personally, didn’t bother me, but what did concern me was that a critic was in the audience. At one point, he actually got up and shushed them. And his review was more about the noise than the play.
So here’s my question to you: are we trying to put square pegs into round holes? The tradition of theatre is that of a sacred space–and in that space, silence is demanded. For the sake of the performers, and for the sake of fellow audience members. While I do think that it’s important to show respect for others in the audience, I wonder if we are mistaking engagement for rudeness. Is it possible that the audience was engaged in the show, and that their chatting was actually them comparing notes and sharing information about what was going on?
We were watching this piece of theatre that made every effort to meet this audience where they were–their music, their dancing, their footwear. And yet, that audience wasn’t allowed to react to it in a way that they were used to.
Maybe we should have a section of the audience for teen-agers, away from the rest of the crowd. So they can text and twitter and chat without bothering anyone. Maybe we should open up the sacred space, and make it a bit more accessible.
The question I’m asking is this: if young people are the audience of our future, do we need to:
- train them on proper “theatre etiquette”, and risk losing them because they’ll consider it to be too boring or stuffy?
- create theatre that is so compelling that they are totally absorbed and engaged?
- or allow them to do what they are going to do, and look at it as something positive, rather than negative?
I’m really interested to hear what you have to say.
To view some videos (a tool that we are using extensively with Exit 22) of Romeo + Juliet, visit their YouTube Channel.