Sunday, January 31, 2010

Show 56: Urbana, UC-IMC

Turnout: 21
Monetary Votes of Support: $66
Personal Injury Report: nothin'

Show Description: I felt really good about our performances, and really enjoyed having a larger audience than we have in the past when performing in Urbana. Also, the opportunity to see our friend Mark perform was priceless. Great playful yet heavy experimental acoustic stuff. We're always glad to come to Urbana, there are lots of experienced artists and activists here, and we look forward to the challenging and energizing post-show discussions.

This time the discussion left a bit of a bad taste in our mouths. It's great when the discussion is long, thorough and critical, but it's hard to not feel like we've gone through a wringer when we get certain kinds of reactions. I don't want to discard the fact that this was a great show with some great discussion, but I'd also like to use this space to muddle out some thoughts on these reactions.

The first troubling reaction comes when we've offended people. That means we've failed somewhere (the error is either in the writing, performance, introduction, or in the invitation of offendable folks to our show). This reaction is especially troubling because it makes me worry about some of the people who don't talk to us afterward, what they're thinking. Some of the people in Urbana mentioned being sick of being "sucker punched" by performance artists. Sucker-punching, offending, or otherwise shocking our audience is not at all our intention. We're trying to honestly present something that is discomforting, to manifest that discomfort without disrespecting the audience. When this fails, it is our failure, we must take responsibility for it. But like any challenge worth pursuing, such failure is only completely avoidable by ceasing to try. I like to think of John Schneider's response to the show as a goal: "their generous, even tender, care for their audiences, reflect a passionate commitment to learning, a faith in the value of theatrical communion, and a desire to help this country rise to its best."

The second troubling reaction is when some members of an audience get downright condescending in their responses. In Urbana the best example of this is a man who said, with exaggerated surprise "wait, are you telling me this actually works?" It's difficult to maintain one's composure when taking in such a dismissive assessment of something we're putting our entire lives into. Especially when somewhat exhausted from performing, and especially when coming from someone who was otherwise acting quite arrogant (not only toward us but toward the rest of the audience). I couldn't help but grin at his sheltered liberal ignorance, but managed to briefly describe some of the types of people who do find the play engaging, relevant, and successful, or even who disliked the play for directly opposite reasons he did. I didn't go into detail of what these people might think of him (or what some of them might do to him in a dark street) but it wouldn't have mattered, because he dismissed them just as condescendingly as he had us.

This guy doesn't deserve to be singled out, and actually the numbers of people who feel similarly but walk away without communicating at all bother me much more. Such reactions, while unfortunate, are expected and unavoidable. We won't let this slow us down.

Did you see this show? If you did, please write a review, ask us some questions or comment on it, because we love artistic transparency.

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