Tuesday, July 13, 2010

You Are Not Your Label

How do you define yourself? I guess I'm talking about your theater company specifically? There are a lot of different labels and designations, so many that the terms can suffer for meaning. Chicago theater, Storefront theater, Off Loop, Emerging, Experimental, Community theater, OffOff Loop, GBLT, Member of the League, Late Night theater, Comedy theater, Physical Theater, Theater of Images, Political Theater, Urban Theater, Ethnic Theater, and on and on and on.

The labels sometimes enable. Often they are a way in which others attempt to relegate you. At worst, occasionally it is what helps folks decide whether or not to dismiss others' artistic efforts. For many people, the Mammals are an off off loop low budget theater company that specializes in Horror. If this is what a person decides we are, that will enable or disable their desire to see your shows. We can do the most faithful production of 'Miracle Worker' and some people will be certain that a Mammals take on it would have to include blindfolding the audience and dowsing them with water (I don't want to do this production, but I have to admit it would tickle me to hear of such an endeavor). Labels can lock you into the grid. And there are a few of us, very few of us I fear, who ever want to get off the grid. (I think the most exciting undiscovered country is be found off that grid).

Labels have more to do with marketing than meaning. And if you decide that your marketing is your meaning, well you have consigned yourself to a inferno of economics over art. I know it wouldn't work for everyone, but today my own personal theory can be visualized as a see saw, art on one side, economics on the other. Except that balance rarely occurs (I originally typed 'Accept that balance rarely occurs'). I'll save that tangent for another day.

In the end though it is up to you and your audience to decide what you are. No one else gets a vote. No one else's opinion truly matters. Even a critic's opinion only matters after they have become a member of the audience (this means that you have to do more than just a few shows). Once they become a member of the audience, then they have a opinion that you as the playmaker should start to hear. That doesn't always mean you concede, or you conform to every expressed desire. It means that your audience does have a right to enter into a conversation with you about the work, if they so choose. And, if they are not conversing with you, I sure hope they are discussing the work with someone. Otherwise it seems futile.

Remember that it is ok for someone to not like the work, to not enjoy the show, to have criticisms. It doesn't mean you have to exclude them from your circle of friends. It doesn't mean you now have a sworn enemy to defeat. It means that whatever you put up in front of the audience that night didn't resonate with that person. Period. They have a label they might put on you, but you are not your label.

If anyone out there tries to convince you that 'everyone' loves their show, smile and nod. Don't try to convince them otherwise. If anyone out there tries to convince you that 'no one' likes your show or that your show doesn't count, smile and nod. This sort of individual usually can't be

I always thank the audience as they are leaving the space (or I always intend to). Sometimes you might get caught up doing something essential for the performance space or putting out a metaphorical fire. Still, there is something about thanking the audience that I learned is essential. It lets them know that for good or bad, you stand by what you just showed them. It shows them that they are important. When you are doing very challenging work, an audience member can sometimes feel superfluous to the production. Looking them in the eye with gratitude helps. After thanking them, many folks don't see a show that needs to be labelled. They see a show that Bob put up. The Mammals then becomes synonymous with myself and the other folks that night who thanked them for listening to the story. We occasionally discuss the stories, and forget about the labels.

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