How to Lose Your Audience in One Easy Step
A couple of months ago, I was in downtown Berkeley with my 2-year-old daughter Sophie and happened upon an outdoor dance performance that was part of National Dance Week. We sat down on the grass to watch, and Sophie was absolutely transfixed by what I realized was her first live performance experience. She couldn’t take her eyes off the dancers and gradually got up and began to imitate them. My husband and I, theatre folks from way back, were thrilled by her enthusiasm. I’m such an arts participation geek that I even leaned over to him and said, “This is how you build future audiences.”
As the dancing continued, Sophie began to stray a bit further into the performance space (keeping in mind that we’re talking about a lawn here, not a stage). Right away, someone from the group came over and very angrily told us to “control our kid.” And of course, as soon as I put her on my lap and told her she had to keep still, she lost interest and we had to leave.
Now, I’m not saying that my child should be allowed to run wild and trip the dancers. But this made me think hard about the way we set up the divide between the performers and the audience. Maybe this particular performance was endangered by a toddler dancing on the sidelines (more likely she was just in the videographer’s shot), but why set it up that way? Here was a performance that was free, outdoors and part of a program whose mission is to build new dance audiences. Why not come up with a performance that encouraged the audience to share the experience?
Watching through the eyes of a 2-year old you see very clearly that dance is something you do with your body. Why not capitalize on the impulse at the core of dance in the structure of the event instead of asking the audience to watch in a way that disengages them from why they got interested in the first place? As a parent, I’m always looking for ways to introduce Sophie to the joy and delight of making and experiencing art. That is, I’m looking for allies in my work of raising an arts lover. As a theatremaker, I haven’t always thought about my work in that light--I’ve generally just chosen the kind of plays I was interested in, and then put them on in the traditional way: on a stage, in the dark, mostly at night. But now, I really want to think carefully about how the work could have fewer rules and more pleasure, could be accessible to people of different ages, and could help expand our vision of what an arts experience looks like.
Labels: arts participation