It’s about the intention of the art, the goal to affect and change. We are artists, but we are also healers.
I recently paid $50 to see a Canadian production that left me feeling like I had just been mugged by three junkies in a dark alley. $50 dollar tickets were all that was left of the nearly sold out production, and I, being a die-hard Canadian theatre activist (of sorts), gladly paid for my ticket to a show that I felt was quite worth the price of admission.
Truth was that upon my post-viewing reflection of the show: its production value, the talent and potential, I feel like I might have preferred the method of losing my money to junkies in a dark alley. In that metaphorical moment of being mugged, I would have most likely experienced a sense of life-altering truth; my heart racing, my blood flowing through my veins, burning in my ears, a rage against the injustice and my own personal loss. I would have staggered home to my roommates and shared the tale of the dark alley and the junkies, a story that I would be telling for several weeks at least. I would embellish my heroism and bravery (when in fact I probably would have sat in a puddle of my own tears and snot while the rain seeped into my clothes, the junkies’ heavy footsteps fading away into the sounds of the busy street). It would have been a terrible moment and I by no means care to throw myself into those experiences by choice. However, when I pay $50 for a ticket to a highly reputed Canadian production I expect to feel something… anything. Instead, I felt indifferent, lethargic and craved the fattest joint that could be rolled.
When I attend the theatre I have certain expectations that the story told would have some influence upon my life. I expect that when I lay down my money that I would be given a joy ride of experiences, emotions and adventures that will allow me the opportunity to understand humanity just a little bit more. It is for these reasons that I wanted to study theatre, became an actor and now produce my own work through my own theatre company: to affect, to change, to enliven and to benefit the human race with stories that will help them remember the joys and complexities of the rarest gift of all: life itself. The last thing I want my audiences to be thinking upon leaving the theatre is “I want a refund!”
All this being said, the production in question received a standing ovation (one of which I was almost inclined to participate in, if for no other reason than to stretch my legs), and has a nearly sold out run. This got me thinking: how can a production that I found rather underwhelming harness such attention and credibility?
What I’m starting to believe is this: that Canadian theatre goers are willing to accept the underwhelming, the indifference, the unpolished production value and the notion that life carries on at its petty pace, from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time, from the purchase of the ticket, to the post show beer. Nothing has changed, and life continues, Shalom and Amen.
However, this is something that I refuse to accept. I refuse to accept that this is the best that Canada has to offer. I refuse to accept that sheer entertainment and cheap laughs is enough to fill the appetites of hungry minds and souls that crave the opportunity to feel the blood flowing through their veins, the giddiness of their heart beat, the reminder that life is beautiful and that all we have is right now. I refuse to accept this and I know that many of my colleagues do as well. Our audiences deserve better, even if they don’t know it. We owe it to them, to our culture and our humanity to pour our heart and soul into the back breaking and often agonizing process of theatre creation. It is through this out pouring of love and respect for our audiences that change can occur. Because it starts with us, doesn’t it? If we want our audiences to be affected, then shouldn’t we also be affected by our work, our art? Shouldn’t it creep into our lives, singing songs of renewal and joy, and shouldn’t that experience be shared with our audiences?
The point I’m trying to make friends is this: It’s not about the money. It’s not about how big your budget is. It’s not about how talented your performers are. It’s about the intention of the art, the goal to affect and change. We are artists, but we are also healers. We share stories of pain to affect pain, so that pain can be healed through conscious reflection of a story presented by flesh and blood. We share stories of joy to affect joy and shed light on a world of darkness.
I for one would like to make a commitment to carry this intention of healing into every project I produce from now until my dying day. Because I’ve realized that there is little money for me in this modest industry, so I need to hold onto something and this rather altruistic manifesto is the best I can come up with. Because, when I am responsible for an audience member leaving a production that I’ve produced/directed/acted in, then there is no greater recognition of my worth and talent than to know that because of me I have made a change, a difference to an audience that I live to serve.