Nestruck challenged me that if I want to measure the success of my artistic merits through audience response that I should set up a refund policy on my art… So I did.
My apologies for the delay in my response to J. Kelly Nestruck’s criticisms in his article in the Globe and Mail entitled: “Stood There, Applauded That” (February 21st). You see, I was busy creating theatre so that the critics have something to write about. Now, I find it seems I have some time to catch up on less pressing issues like whether or not a theatre critic disapproves of my intentions regarding audience involvement in the work I produce.
Let me catch you up to date. In early February I had the privilege of being in the audience for a hyped up Canadian production that (I felt) fell flat on its face (as they tend to do)… I wrote about it and it sparked a conversation amongst theatre critics in Toronto about how it seems that every production that graces the stage receives the inevitable “Canadian Compulsory Standing O.” I got to thinking about how I, as a theatre creator can go about rectifying this disturbing phenomenon. I came up with a rather underdeveloped idea of placing an insert into the programmes of the productions I produce that reads: “To help us better understand your level of satisfaction with our presentation please: give us a standing ovation if you are incredibly satisfied, a seated applause if you are satisfied, and complete silence if you are rather indifferent … and (dare I say…) a vocal ‘boo’ if you were unsatisfied.”
While this idea needed refining, I felt that it was, in the very least, a feeble attempt to un-do the mentality in our Canadian audiences that standing ovations are compulsory. Through this idea, I want my audiences to know that they do not owe us anything in the way of a collective response to our work; we are not looking for approval, but for honest to goodness feedback.
I elicited J. Kelly Nestruck to chime in with his response to my idea. I specifically picked Nestruck to strike up this conversation because I knew that he would loath the idea and in doing so provide me with some very critical feedback in its regard. I was right and through our twitter debate and his article where he quotes my programme-inserting intentions, I have been better able to round out my thoughts.
I believe that it is through debate and perhaps confrontation as I experienced with Nestruck, (I.e. “any artist who chooses to mount the overdone, overrated math melodrama Proof should not be determining the benchmark for underwhelming.”) that an idea can become a good idea and a good idea can become great. In fact it was through this debate and Nestruck’s closing argument that caused me to adjust my intentions of this “rating-system” and put my money with my mouth is. Nestruck challenged me that if I want to measure the success of my artistic merits through audience response that I should set up a refund policy on my art.
And this is exactly what I will do. For every show Mnemonic Theatre produces, we will offer a full-money-back guarantee at intermission, starting with Proof by David Auburn (Vancouver, June 2013).
When I announced this to my associate producers, one commented, “But, don’t we run the risk of losing a lot of money?” To which I replied, “Only if we do shitty work, so let’s make damn sure we don’t.” This, my friends, is called STAKES.
Thank you, J.Kelly Nestruck for your unabashed criticisms and insightful recommendations.