Some Suggestions For Talking About Theatre
I love theatre. It’s shocking, it’s hilarious, it’s frightening, it’s strange, it makes you think about the world in a million different ways. One of my favorite moments is right at intermission or after the show, when my friends and I are actively and enthusiastically discussing the work of art we just saw. Being surrounded by theatre people, I hear these conversations constantly, and I often will join in to a few. But more and more, I’m noticing that some of these conversations start in a rather negative place and do little to discuss the contents of the show itself. Phrases like “That show was the worst” and “I got nothing out of it” are tossed around so often, one might be confused about what to actually go see anymore.
I think there are ways that we can approach talking about a show that doesn’t require us to completely tear it down or make people feel bad for liking any particular show. I gave it a lot of thought and came up with this short list of things to consider when you walk out of that theater.
- What aspects of the show DID you enjoy?
Far too often, people write off a show as being completely terrible when, anyone watching could easily pick out at least a few things that were very well done. This could be a show without the best writing but the actors are incredible, it could be the show didn’t grab you but the effects were spot on, a cool concept, fun choreography, anything! Putting up a show is a lot of work. It takes an incredible amount of time, money, and passion. It’s almost impossible to throw in that much passion and not have something come out pretty good. Try talking about those things first, acknowledge the hard work that your fellow artists put in, and then go into why it wasn’t your favorite. After all, if someone wasn’t a fan of a show you were working on, wouldn’t you want them to still acknowledge the work you put in?
- What is this show trying to be?
A cheeseburger makes a really terrible chocolate cake. No one would argue that. But we don’t enjoy a good juicy burger because of how much it tastes like chocolate cake or vice versa. We enjoy it for how much it tastes like a burger. Similarly, in theatre, using the same scale to judge every show by could damage our outlook of that show. Beetlejuice is not going to be like Hamlet. Nor should it be. These are completely different shows that are going to prompt completely different responses. What are you looking to gain? Are you looking to be moved to tears? To laugh? Be moved to action? Be uncomfortable? Did it fulfill that? It’s ok to have a comedy scale and a drama scale and a Shakespeare scale. Have all the scales you want! Just don’t put expectations on a burger to be a great slice of chocolate cake.
- Are you the right audience for the show?
Everyone has their tastes, and that’s perfectly fine. But I think it’s important to be aware that those are tastes that you have and may not be the tastes of others. If you don’t like shows set in a high school, that’s fine! Don’t see Mean Girls or Be More Chill. But don’t call them bad shows because you don’t like to watch shows about high school. If you only like theatre that’s political, fantastic! But don’t trash on other shows that don’t deal with politics. For some shows, this may not be the story they want to tell.
Are you having trouble connecting to a story because it’s from a perspective different than your own? It’s ok to not completely understand. How could you? They’re not your experiences. But don’t write off a show as bad just because it was written by and for someone with a different perspective. Maybe go see it again and try to understand that perspective a little bit more! Theatre is often education as well as entertainment, after all!
- Please, please, please don’t criticize or make fun of someone who likes a show that you don’t like.
You are allowed to like that show that everyone hated. You are allowed to jam out to that cast album as loudly as you please.
Far too often, I see people mention that they like a particular show that might be “unpopular” and their entire personality is evaluated based on that opinion. Please stop this. Everyone is going to enjoy things for different reasons because we all are unique and wonderful people who have unique and wonderful lives. They may connect to a particular moment in a show because it reminds them of their dad or because it was the first show they ever performed in. It’s ok to debate about a show, but really debate then. Hear their side. Seek to understand what about the show appealed to them and maybe it’ll make you see it in a whole new light.
The real point where this becomes a problem is when theatre people judge those who are new to theatre for the shows they like. I say, if that show gets someone new to join this wonderful sea of creative and inspiring people, then fantastic! If we get into the habit of discouraging these people for particular shows, we create an environment where people feel they have to “know enough” to be a part of the theatre community, and that’s just not true.
I am by no means saying we have to think about theatre this way. These are just some suggestions that I came up with to combat some things that I have noticed. I struggled a lot with figuring out how to write this article because despite the list that I made, I’m still unsure. I want to be able to talk about art in an encouraging way but it’s so easy to get into the trap of negativity. But even then, I don’t think talking negatively about a show is inherently bad. We are all artists and the work that other artists put out doesn’t just represent them, it represents all of us. So, we should be critical. We should demand better when something feels off. If something offends you, talk about it! Say it loud, because whether we realize it or not, we have at least a little say in what goes up on stage, if not now, certainly in the future. Make those writers rethink that line they just wrote or make an actor run to his script and work on his monologue one more time.
I guess, my hope with this, is to provide a starting point. Not an outline for a discussion, but a beginning of one. If you have gone through all of these things and there is still something about the show that makes you angry, then you’re probably right to be angry and we should be talking about it.
I, like anyone else, just want to keep the conversation going.