What I Want for You, Dear Audience, as the Curtain Rises
This probably isn’t the article you’re expecting in the theatre issue of Culture Owl from the Executive Director of the South Florida Theatre League. The article where I tell you about what has happened over the intermission of the COVID-19 pandemic and what shows I’m excited about seeing as audiences return to in person programing. I tried writing that article and I failed.
Because the theatre industry has used our time of creating work digitally like a butterfly within a cocoon and we’re transforming. And now that you are coming back to see in-person shows, I want to share with you what I want for you, as an audience member as a result of this transformation.
Here is a short list of what I want for you:
I want you to feel comfortable going back into theatre spaces. If someone else coughs, I want your only worry to be about missing what was said on stage.
I want you to feel the support and comfort of seeing a show you know that you love – hearing those lines or that song that makes your heart soar.
I want you to feel the exhilaration of experiencing something completely new – maybe it’s an immersive theatre piece where the action happens all around you (Miami is a hotspot for immersive work) or a brand new play that you will be one of the first audience members for.
I want you to be able to feel the reactions of the other audience members around you as you collectively gasp or applaud.
I want you to enjoy all the parts of your evening – from when you first leave your house or workplace and head to theatre to when you come home and go to bed. It’s all a part of the experience that you’ve missed.
None of these expectations should be surprising. This is what made you love theatre in the first place.
But I want more for you than just that.
I want you to realize that the pandemic has increased our accessibility to art. Over the past 18 months, I have seen professionally created productions from all over the world. While I will always cherish the local and the collective breath of being together in a room – I am so excited about how many new or new-to-me things I can see. I’ve seen professionally shot productions from London and Chicago and Philadelphia. I’ve witnessed interactive, immersive zoom shows with small audiences from all over the world. And I’ve listened to fantastically done audio drama, including traditional plays done over podcasts and plays created as podcasts, invoking my imagination.
And while I am as excited as you are to be back in a space again, I want you to demand that this increased access to art around the world doesn’t go away.
But I still want more for you.
I want you to see a play in the coming months that you are the target audience for. A play that feels made for you. Where you feel so in sync with what you’re seeing that it was if the playwright created the play just for you.
But I want you to also make space for the moment when the person who is completely in sync with the play is someone else who has a completely different life experience than you. That you’re open to receiving the wonders of looking at the world through a completely different lens than your own. One of the joys of being in a theatre together is that we collectively breathe stories – and sometimes it’s revelatory to connect with stories that aren’t our own.
And yet… I still want more for you.
I want you to know that theatre has not been down for the past year and a half, but rather transforming. It’s a painful, messy process that has been happening behind the scenes of your favorite companies – but we’re actively working to make our lives more sustainable. We’re coming to realize that “the show must go on” is a threat, not a statement of inspiration. That a life in the arts does not have to mean starvation wages and no health insurance. This call for a healthier theatre workplace echoes calls for healthier workplaces across many industries right now. You might think this has nothing to do with you, as someone who comes to see shows. But as someone who sees theatre – the theatre we create will be more exciting, more breath-taking if the people creating it have a moment to take a breath.
Because that’s what I want for you – a better theatre experience. A richer, more profound connection to this artform that you already know. I do not want us to go back to normal. I want us to create something new together. And theatre workers have been using this time to do that – and you, the audience, are the “secret sauce” we need to complete that transformation.
Join us as our local theatres collectively reopen their doors. Explore something new to you and return to your old favorites.
That’s what I want for you. To be transformed.
Playwright and Executive Director
of the South Florida Theatre League