Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Theatrospherians? Where are the Fans?

Do you have any fans?

Fan - short for fanatic

My wordweb says that fanatics are people motivated by irrational enthusiasm.

Synonyms? Overzealous...rabid...

Is there anyone out there rabid to see your work?

Do you have folks whose enthusiasm for what you make in your creative endeavors reaches the level of irrational?

RLewis in response to Don's latest daily poke with a stick... claims that TV is not the enemy. That TV appeals to those who are too lazy to go out an live life.

As a television watcher, I found this highly offensive and was seriously contemplating starting a flame war with Ralph (wink). Instead, I'll just clear my digital throat and say that I disagree. I might rebut his point with the just recently completed San Diego Comic Con, and event filled to the brim with folks who spend way too much time watching TV but not because they are lazy, but because the narratives on TV provide them with something they want or need that they cant find anywhere else. Many of these people cross the country to get to the Comic Con. They invest time, energy, money, everything they have so that they can live life with people who have similar tastes.

There a million kids this year that will go out to see theatre, in the form of Hannah Montana Live(a few adults too). Why that show? Now, Don might say...because their mouth breathers (I miss that old chestnut...maybe he wouldn't though...I can't speak for him)...I think it is because they have a need/want that Hannah Montana feeds into... Not because they are lazy life denying xenophobes who leave the house only when absolutely necessary.

It is the same way for the sports fan...or more appropriately the sports fanatic. They (by which I include myself) will spend money on T shirts, coffee cups, posters, decals, bumper sticks, ring tones which remind them of their team. They will spend more in one night at the stadium, they the average American spends on theatre all year long. But, what is it that they get out of the sporting event that they can't get anywhere else? Is it a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves?

Now, lets look at a show like, WNEPs Metaluna (which BTW this blogger highly recommends)...what if anything in this show could have so much appeal that people even if they are a minority could driven to degree of Fanatic?

There has to be something? Is that something akin to previous notions of community? Perhaps, but lets not stop there. If you ask me why I love the White Sox and drop a couple hundred dollars a year on t-shirts, tickets, and brats combined...I wouldn't say Community...I wouldn't say because they are "winners"...i wouldn't say it was because I like sitting in the crowds with a bunch of drunks...There is something emotional and ritualistic and involving about the game...the stadium...the young ladies in hot pants...the fireworks after a homerun...etc...etc...these are palpable measurable physically felt things...

Doesn't Metaluna and by extension much of small storefront theatre have something like that? Something that makes one feel fanatical?

This is possible...or maybe you think it isnt? Weigh in people, please...


Scott Walters said...

Re: White Sox. I'm a bit puzzled about your idea of "community," if you dismiss it. Part of the reason is that you are among people who share your fanaticism for the Sox and the game of baseball, which is a definition of community: a group that shares values. Even if you were a Sox fan buying a ticket to a Cubs game, you wouls still share the love of the game of baseball with the crowd.

That said, you are onto something when you mention "ritualistic." There are certain "tropes," to use a high-falutin' word, that is part of the experience. There are the ones you mention, and the beer guy yelling "beer here" and the passing of peanuts down the row, and the 7th-inning stretch (can you think of any other place where people sing together in today's America?), and fathers teaching their kids about baseball. It is an inclusive ritual, and satisfying no matter what happens on the field.

Theatre used to have some of that. For instance, in biographies you will encounter descriptions of the tingle of excitement before the curtain started to go up to start the show (now we don't have many curtains, either). But we've de-ritualized a lot of theatre, perhaps to our detriment. Rituals allow groups to bond, to participate in a known activity that increases a sense of belonging. We could use some more of that, I think.

Devilvet said...

@Scott got to run to a meeting for an hour...but the quick metaphor before I go that using the word community is like the clean cut boy who impresses mother, but never gets pass 1st base (unless behind closes doors...he is not so clean cut)...community has been a watch word or perhaps buzz word...and the way in which you use it...is culturally spent among the folks in my diggs. Community is a great concept, but it is a bad word.

more on this later

Scott Walters said...

Well, let's call it something else -- sniggerty-pish, if you like. I don't care. The concept is powerful, even if the word has been overused, and I cannot abandon a powerful concept simply because a word has been drained white.

Barry Rowell said...

I think, in addition to the sense of belonging (or community, if you will) that fans get from being part of a larger group, there's also a sense of safety. Why do we have the explosion of chain restaurants/stores/etc. across this country? When people visit us in NYC from elsewhere in the country, they invariably gravitate toward the familiar: The Gap and Starbucks or what have you. These stores are in every city in the US--if you're a shopper (and I'm not, actually), why not bypass them and go to the myriad of stores that you can't see anywhere else? I think it's because you can be fairly certain that you won't be disappointed by going to those places.

Television and film offer the public something different on occasion... although apparently not this summmer: even those films that are not sequels are still safe (I liked Iron Man but is it really all that different from Spiderman or any of the other comic book movies?). And as someone who goes to the theater a lot, I have been very disappointed on many occasions: of the three plays I saw this weekend, only one was any good at all. And no one wants to waste their time: how many times after a bad production/play have I said, "well that's 2 hours I'll never get back"? What makes it worthwhile for me are those rare moments where everything comes together and, as a group, we have that transformative experience that only theater can offer: no one who is not in the room, at that moment, with all those other people will ever fully appreciate the power the moment.

The question is how to communicate that to others. I think your analogy of Comic Con is an apt one: if it isn't a question people being willing to expend their energy/money/time, then it must be finding some other way of connecting. I'd be interested to see if the online graphic novel of Clay Continent offers you any opportunities for that—it would seem to have some potential for reaching a group that might not ordinarily seek out theater... if they can find out about it, of course....

Devilvet said...

@Scott I dont mean to dump all over the power of the concept, but I can not divorce the verbage choice with the negative or even worse ambivilent associations it has. I abhor the use of that word in the same manner I abhor the use of the term "edgy" or "experimental" when talking about productions by established playwrights and shows they wrote 25+ years ago.

I remember a conversation, I think it was with Freeman (please forgive but I cant go back right now and get the link) where there was a lot of back and forth about starting an "independent" theatre movement... i didn't get the adherence to that terminology in the same way that use of the word "community" for me seems to be more of an obstacle to itself than an enabler.

The term has too many associations and connotations for me to be able to perceive it as a term, a signifier if you will that with re-invigorate theatre.

If we can get "community...gulp" from our sporting events, chruchs, and any other place than theatre...well then it seems to me that we are trying to provide something that already exists in spades in other places.

Or...if you want to argue that despite the plethora of other places to be besides a theatrespace there when you step back and look at the entire forest their is a missing place where "community...gulp" used to be...I tend to think that the concept is one that isn't as desired or desired in the same fashion that we pine for.

Getting along and feeling a kinship with your fellow man is a great thing. Having a place where you can share stories experiences etc is a great thing...but when we start using that f-ing word "community...gulp" there as too many tedious civic, NFP, buzz associations attached. We think we are narrowing the focus, but what we are actually doing to the conversation is washing it over with a wide brush.

It is not just the word "communiiitttteeeeey" but all the associations and for lack baggage that comes with it.

A call for community is not what will bring people into the theatre, even if it is a fringe benefit of being within the theatre.

That is why I feel so much malasie and dread every time that word is used to describe the "magic feather' that gets folks out of AMC movie house and off their couches and back into theatrical spaces.

Call it kommunity
kin-munity or something else...something significant that passes due honor to "commmunity...gulp" but allows one (especially the uninitiated in theater) something other than a notion of a feeling that they got somewhere other than a theatre space.

apologies for any misspellings.

p.s. Fandom and Community are not synonymus.

Scott Walters said...

As I said, I don't care what you call it, but the description you offered is community + ritual. And this, I must confess, I find baffling: "If we can get "community...gulp" from our sporting events, churchs, and any other place than theatre...well then it seems to me that we are trying to provide something that already exists in spades in other places." Really? The theatre needs to provide an experience that has no connection at all to an experience provided by any other thing in our society? Isn't that like saying, "If vanilla ice cream already provides a cold, creamy, sweet dessert, why do we need chocolate?" Doesn't that contradict the moral of Malcolm Gladwell's spaghetti sauce analogy that so many were fond of in the theatrosphere?

Devilvet said...

"The theatre needs to provide an experience that has no connection at all to an experience provided by any other thing in our society?"

My point is that if we provide that experience...it will not be the thing that reinvigorates audience attendence. If as Rlewis put it our true competition is the sporting event...then providing a similar experience will be something so different from what people conceive as as "Theatah" that the folks here on the theatrosphere wont want to be a part of said thing. My point is that if the populace has a need, and already has a conveinent well set up venue to satisify that need... than I dont get how we use an already satisified need as bait to get them back.

"Community...gulp" makes for poor bait if the fish has already had its full of "community"

I dont expect us to agree on this, so rather than debate if we are using the right word...why not show me how my abandoning of the word kills live theatre?

Community happens at the baseball game, but it isn't on any of the literature or the websites...when people get together for any reason at any place "community" happens.

So maybe a better question is how does or how can the quality of "community" be substantially different in a theatre space than any other place...how does it stand out? Why "this community" rather than "that community"?

Am I the only person here who doesnt get how "community...gulp" saves theatre?

Show me...

Scott Walters said...

Well, I wasn't aware that you were talking about marketing copy, I thought we were talking about the experience itself. Do you sell theatre by marketing community and ritual? Hell no -- people would freak out. Is that part of the experience that will keep people coming back for more? I'd say yes. You're not selling a commodity, you're selling an experience and a relationship. To my mind, the focus should be on the experience itself, not the marketing copy. That we have spent a century providing disincentives for people to attend theatre I will readily admit -- the modernist orientation has been a real attendance killer. But we don't address that through marketing, but rather through how we treat people once their butt is in a seat. Then, as daddyland illustrated in his response to Don's show, you let the people go out and evangelize about your show by saying it is "different" than what you normally think about when you attend a theatre. And it grows from there, one person at a time.

Devilvet said...

"Well, I wasn't aware that you were talking about marketing copy, I thought we were talking about the experience itself."

See I think that conceiving as these as mutually exclusive items

"marketing" and "experience" is part of the problem.

Copy is only one facet of how "community...gulp" is failing as a lure for audience.

Again...I ask why "this community" rather than or in addition to "that community"?

If we can not asnwer this without the cicular dialogue equating "because community is a good thing dont you know so more community is more better" than I dont know what we have...

Again...I ask why "this community" rather than or in addition to "that community"?

Is the problem that we want a "community", but can not define it...or can not agree upon it...

That rather than community...what many of us are talking about is actually a validated culture within established communities?

Scott Walters said...

I must confess, I don't find "community...gulp" all that funny, and you are taking us back to discussions we don't need to revisit. There is no "this community" or "that community," community isn't a thing, it is a verb, a relationship that is forged by people having an experience together. We're not talking about community as a geographical term, or as a ethnic term, or a racial one. It isn't something that existed outside the theatre, but something that is created within it. Nobody would call themselves a member of the "baseball community" except players, maybe. But a baseball community is forged at a baseball game. An experience can foster connection, or it can make connection harder to have. Baseball fosters connection: people interact and it's part of the experience, and it is what makes the experience different than watching the plasma TV. A movie, on the other hand, doesn't foster community because it turns off the lights so that people can't see each other, puts them in enormous seats so that communication is hindered with anyone further away than your immediate left or right, turns the volume up so high that it is impossible to be heard, and hustles people out as soon as the lights go up. Connection isn't important to movies, because it isn't a live experience but a canned one. But when live theatre reproduces that experience, we just are cutrate movies. So get the idea of "community" as the synonym of "culture" or "geographic group" or "ethnic enclave" out of your mind. It is about an opportunity to connect while experiencing an event.

Devilvet said...


(I almost went ahead and deleted your last comment...but principle told me to go ahead and let it stand.)

WOW! Let me confess that has really gotten my blood up!

Weren't not supposed to be talking about community at all!!!What is the title of this damn post?

I dont give two squirts what you find funny or not. Perhaps it is my fault for saying that I didn't want to talk about community and turning it into that awesome special box on the top drawer that I forbade anyone to comment about.

Just becuase my thoughts dont support your plan doesnt mean that they arent valid inquiries...and to say that we've already covered this ground doesnt appear valid either since half the things discussed dont seem to have achieved consensus.

excuse me for saying that you're the one who keeps bringing the conversation back to same damn ground...

You can not even allow for someone to politely communicate disagreement without issuing orders or telling me what is appropriate fodder for thought on my own damn blog.

"and you are taking us back to discussions we don't need to revisit. There is no "this community" or "that community," community isn't a thing, it is a verb, a relationship that is forged by people having an experience together."

Well I disagree...that whole dang thing RVC posted is so full of talk about "others"...why??? becuase community is a fucking noun. That document is about how to form alternate communities (noun) from existing communities that make "other" feel unwelcome.

You are so bent on your POV, you can't even leave my comments alone to discuss the things I bring up if you feel I am diverging off message.

To be blunt, I didn't want to have a conversation about community in the first place...why becuase I knew we were not going to agree.

This blog is not an extension of theatreideas...so please don't tell me what to say or what to ask.

You don't want to talk about what I bring up...fine..but dont tell me how to phrase not own thoughts on my own blog. Dont tell me what questions to ask and which ones not to...

I've been real coordial lately. And for my trouble I get to listen to your summary dismissals.

All the best, but stopping shitting my soup especially when it has nothing to do with agenda.

I try to have a conversation and you in essense tell me to shut up.

Trying hard not to shoot you back that middle finger


Scott Walters said...

If you didn't want to talk about community, why did you bring it up in the initial post, and then confine your first two comments to the term? 2/3 of my first comment was about ritual -- why didn't you focus on that? I'm not trying to tell you what to do on your own blog, but rather to set some boundaries so commenters like me know where the landmines are buried.

Shit, dv, let's talk about ritual -- that's interesting! But if you don't want to talk about community -- let's not!

Devilvet said...

Fine, perhaps my initial post wasnt concise enough...please let me start over...

Do you have any fans?

Synonyms? Overzealous...rabid...

Is there anyone out there rabid to see your work?

Do you have folks whose enthusiasm for what you make in your creative endeavors reaches the level of irrational?

Doesn't Metaluna and by extension much of small storefront theatre have something like that? Something that makes one feel fanatical?

(no mention of "community...gulp") oops (wink)

Devilvet said...


I told myself I was going to wait until we were alone, but...

I think I want to break up. We can still be cordial for our sake of our friends...but you should know...it's not me...it's you.



Devilvet said...

So Scott (and anyone else...please please) is ritual a key to fanaticism? If so how can theatre utilize it other than the current rituals which are not getting the job done?

And for the sake of clarity if we must focus on one thing let it be "fandom" rather than other dreaded nouns of dissent and disagreement. I end the flame war, but still want strategies for fandom in all mediums and maybe bring it back to theatre in the end...but any sort of fandom in what we want to keep on the table...


Scott Walters said...

Fine! Community is banished like yesterday's sweatpants. Fandom it is.

I have been noticing the excitement in the theatrosphere for not a theatre opening, but rather a coupole film openings: "Dark Knight" and "Watchmen" (which actually made Don pee a little), and I tried to remember a similar enthusiasm in the theatrosphere for a piece of theatre, and frankly I couldn't. Maybe I'm getting old, but I couldn't remember any instances of fandom about theatre.

And maybe that's the problem. Maybe it isn't about competition from film and wide-screen TV, or sports, or inertia -- maybe it is that most theatre is so mediocre that it doesn't inspire fandom. With so much of theatre being written and performed by the inexperienced because the experienced have given up to go in search of a way to be creative AND live their life, much of our work is slipshod. Add in the economics which make it necessary for directors to direct seven or eight different productions all over the country one right after the other just to make ends meet, and we end up with ill-conceived, superficial, and boring productions lacking in innovation or anything to say.

Now that's a pretty dismal answer to your fandom question, but one that might be worth considering.

Devilvet said...

Scott, I can still feel you steering us somewhere...but I wont take the bait...

Back to fandom and theatre...

I think there are fandom notions to theatre...I think Sondheim has quite the fandom (even magazines specifically dedicated to him)

The performers can achieve fandom

Do some companies or specific artists get fandom? Julie Taymor? Wooster Group? Elevator Repair Service, here in chicago Neo-Futurists and the now gone Defiant Theatre? I think all these have or had some fandom...

Do we think about fandom and how to establish it, cultivate it?

Devilvet said...

Maybe a way to inquiry is "what creates a comic book fan?" and is any component of that useable or translate to live narrative events (what you people often think of as theatre)

Wrestling too? What makes a Wrestling fan?

Scott Walters said...

My kids were wrestling and comic book fans -- and Pokemon and D & D and Warcraft and...

Here's one thing, and it links to sports, too: being a fan means having access to lots of information, insider or otherwise. You can master all kinds of arcana, which makes you see the things in the comic book, for instance, that others can't. I'm a football fan, and I follow all the training camp reports with great passion, so that I know the story beneath the story when the first game is played. Is there a way to do the same with theatre?

Devilvet said...

I was thinking along similar lines. Fans usually have lots of various ways to get various input about the objects of their fanaticism.

I think theatre could do this, but it requires some changes in the way we think about the event and the pre and post production events. More on this tomorrow though.

Scott Walters said...

It might also require multi-theatre cooperation. It isn't just the Carolina Panthers, in my case, but the whole NFL.

Tony Adams said...

Late to the party . . .

I think fandom comes from finding something that has been missing in your life, and connecting it with yourself. Part dream of the future and part nostalgia for the past fans tend to cling to X that was a part of their experience/person/emotion they want back. It'd probably be talked of as an addiction if the drug companies figure out a pill to market for it.

Sidenote--Baseball is an interesting one for me because it is one of the few things I know of that can stay through every stage of a man's life.

I think why people go to the park (an not just rabid fans) is for the experience and atmosphere. When a team's not doing so well, not as many people show up. Usually all a team can do(except for the Cubs) to get the attendance back up is start winning.

I don't know a whole lot of non-fans who'll sit through a game on tv, but I know a lot who'll gladly go to the ballpark. There's something that they can't experience anywhere else, and you can have a dog and a beer brought to your seat.

Devilvet said...

@Barry re: online clay continent...I dont know if the opportunity is there. I have to sort of wait and see. There was a lot of excitement about it...but the resource of time wasnt on my side...i.e. It takes me time to figure out how to put this book together so until the bulk of the content is online, I expect only a small percentage of folks to check in every day or every week...

Once their a dozens on pages online as opposed to what 7 or 8 right now...that's just the way it'll be. I think with next graphic novelization/live narrative project, The Meatlocker, we will be holding the final images pretty close to the vest until the whole thing is done.

But...I have already seen how the Online comic of a show produced by my company can help solidify potential fandom. When I went to see Metaluna...(I really want to write something intelligent about that show...hopefully this week...BTW go see it) I had a couple folks I haven't seen in a while talk to me enthusatically about the comic and an offer at future collaboration...(ps DD I haven't forgotten you...list of ideas are coming)

Some other ideas I've had relate to the kind of work i do...half dozen of the plays take pplace in this sort of 50s noir world. I've considered the possiblity of expanding that world sort like Faulkner or the Marvel universe...so that there is a map of the towns and counties and comics of characters from plays and around the plays...again a multi-medium approach that embraces live narrative and other methods...i think that giving something that an audience can choose to become emmersed in...maybe that can help enable fandom.

Devilvet said...

...the fear ...the question then is... do I become Frank Miller (thumbs up) or Henry Darger (Thumbs down)

RLewis said...

Bob, you lazy fuck!!! Turn off that damn TV!!! hahahahahahahahahahaha

I just had to say that. You know I'm kiddin'. Sorry to kick-in in the 9th inning here, but just came across your fun lil' conversation with Scotty.

I don't know what you do when you want to be lazy, but I know what I do - I watch TV! Nothing wrong with being lazy from time to time. It's just a matter of what you want out of life and how much of it you're getting.

I'm glad that it got you out of the house for Comic Con. It works that way for baseball, too - televising games increases ticket sales at the stadium. And I think that can work for theater as well...

This reminds me of other watercooler talk: on blogs we can only comment so much about a particular theater piece cuz so few of us saw it. But bring up a movie on any theater blog and you'll get a dozen comments. There's a shared experience (theater had a bit of that pre-TV and occasionally today).

Community is the best word we have for that, and sorry if you don't like the word, but that's your issue. I'll go with watercooler cliques or something if that helps. It's how we relate and learn about our friends, family, co-workers, etc. How about calling it fellowship? fanoship? I really don't care about that, so you chose.

Now as to who these fans are and how much narrative they need in their lives is hard to get into a comment here. But some folks like comics (not me), some like movies (The Wackness was my first trip to a cinema this year), some like sports (that's me), and some like the arts (me too, but doesn't float well with the sports me). We are the same cliques we were in high school - nerds, geeks, jocks, stoners, etc - just harder to ID (and there's something on tv for almost all of us... or there used to be).

But whoever we are, we want to have that connection beyond tv - even if just with Hannah in concert. How do we get that same fanaticism in theater? I'm not sure. My group does have some folks who are rather excited to come to our shows, and I'm working to build their fanship everyday. We just don't produce regularly enough. We've sold t-shirts and tattoos, and would try cups and hats, but still not enough to buy bulk yet.

How to build fans for Dada seems even more daunting to me. Maybe the most daunting. I mean, the original Dadaist didn’t want fans. They abused their audience and tried to create the most anti-art, anti-engaging things they could. Asking someone to be a fan of that seems like you’re really out to make your job as difficult as possible. So, I don’t think it’s fare to lump all storefront theater with Metaluna.

But I do believe on the baseline we all want that engagement. We want to chat about the game at work tomorrow no matter who won. We want to dish about the star in that movie last weekend no matter how much he sucked. And we want to have an experience that when retold makes us the envy of our friends. It’s a hard jump for even the touring Broadway productions, but I’ve never wanted to anything nice and easy, so this lil’ indie theater is the niche for me.

Now, the real question is: if you didn't feel guilty about how much tv you watch, would you have been so offended? And is it helping you achieve your life goals?

Devilvet said...

Well I wasnt really offended, but TV can be an obstacle to creativity. I have to have it though. I've turned the TV off for brief periods of time...and I know I'll try again after baseball season, but it is hard...I watch TV to unwind, not becuase I'm feeling lazy. When I'm feeling lazy I usually sleep or meditate or listen to music actually. Laziness and narrative of any kind doesnt work for me (can not sleep with the TV on, my brain is always attempting to signify the narrative even during the commericals.

And, (god forgive me) I know that "community....gulp" works just fine for most people the way marijuana usage works for some...but everytime I take a hit i'm out for like 3 days in a row.

Maybe next time I'm angling for a good fight, I'll talk more about why denotation of the word is valid, but the connotate has become corrupted...but not tonight.

Now....how did you become a fan of not art? But a specific artist?