• Kckick

    I think there is a responsibility for artists to be conscious of self indulgence onstage. I’m a high school drama teacher and as a college theatre student, I often felt like an outsider in my own field of study. We do not need live twitter feeds during a production to engage the audience. Yes, perhaps a student production of O’Neil is not the best introduction but maybe it was just poorly done. And although we should always take our work seriously, if we hail the production as an altar to our own need for artistic fulfillment, we will inevitably ostracize those outside of our own artistic circle.
    What social media has done is broken down barriers to authentic response, so much so that today’s theatre goers do not understand the old rules of decorum for an audience and perhaps we need to start the conversation during the show, not after it.

    • David Dudley

      Kchick, thanks for the comment. I don’t know that we should leap to conclusions about integrating technology and social media into the theatre. Many artists are now finding exciting, innovative ways to employ these storytelling tools. (And, trust me, I’m not an advocate of social media.)

      But I don’t think that social media is the problem here per se. While it has changed our culture to an extent yet to be determined, it’s not the primary reason most young people don’t know the rules of theatre. They don’t know theatre because they are either a) not exposed to it at all, or b) they are exposed only to their instructor’s personal favorites – which may not land at all.

      These long-time favorites are not without merit. But it’s kind of like buying a gift for someone you love, and, instead of buying a personalized gift for that person, you buy something that you yourself want.

      Another trend that occurs is that some theatre people refuse, for various reason, to read new works. At least in part, this is why there are more new works being written for the stage than ever before, yet we see the same stuff produced over and again. (Of course there’s the question of quality, but if one’s got Eurpides on the brain, will they give Aaron Posner any real consideration?)

      I teach theatre to undergrads and, though I refer to Oedipus Rex and Ajax often, I don’t feel the need to make them read those plays just yet. I’d introduce them to Tina Satter, or Tarell Alvin McCraney, or the Neo-Futurists. Let them find their footing in the things being written about the world that they live in and know, and then challenge them to go back in time to see where these things came from.

      If they make that leap, then we may count them among our future audiences, and, in some cases, the next generation of theatre artists; If they don’t, at least I’ve hooked them for the semester.

      Thus the article is meant to get people to think about the audiences we want to bring into the theatre. A live twitter feed – though aesthetically problematic – may very well be an effective entry point for a group of people that will go on to view King Lear as the greatest play ever written. It’s about letting them in so that they can make up their own minds.

  • M_B_W

    I teach high school theatre and I wrestle with this all the time because I think it’s so important for students to have positive early experiences with theatre.

    I DO require my students to attend shows because many of them have limited (if any) experience attending live theatre…and it makes the concepts easier to grasp & discuss if they have seen a show.

    AND/BUT I have many students who take theatre simply because they need a fine arts credit, not necessarily because they have a particular interest in theatre.

    I DO give them choice about what shows they see…they are allowed to see any performance of their choosing (as long as they provide some kind of proof that they attended. Many of them choose to see the shows we produce at school simply out of convenience. I do, however, actively encourage them to see a show that they think they might actually be interested in. In reality, though, many of them don’t put in the time to seek out a show on their own.

    But I agree, we have to give kids some agency to choose and we have to give them permission to honestly express how they felt about a performance.

    The trick is balancing educational needs (the need to be exposed to major/important works of theatre, for example) with the need to expose them to forms of theatre that are engaging and relevant.

    I think part of the key, as this article wisely points out, is doing thing to prep the students for the experience (rather than dumping them into an O’Neill or Chekhov performance with no prep)

    • MWnyc

      Indeed. As good a discussion as this article gives generally, I think the lesson about the incident David describes at the beginning is “Don’t make undergrads in this day and age sit through O’Neill.” I think they could get Shakespeare and even Chekhov (who can be quite funny) or Moliere if the production and performances are good. But Eugene O’Neill’s work has not aged well, even for a lot of jaded grown-ups, I’m afraid.

      • David Dudley

        That’s not quite it. As the comment above points out, we must prep students. The O’Neill play was simply an example of a wider trend that needs to be addressed. It was the “in” that prompted this conversation. (Of course, I know that those students were prepped for the show – and it still didn’t reach them.)

        And for all that, I’ve asserted very little. In an earlier draft, there was a comment by Mr. Hwang. He said that sending students who have never been to the theatre before to see Shakespeare is like introducing people who have never done math to calculus. I agree with that notion. Shakespeare and Chekhov are lovely, but they’re not as accessible as we’d like to believe. It’s not just the quality of production; it’s the language, the relationships of the characters to the world of the play, the unfamiliar conventions. There’s a whole cultural language that’s landing with theatre people, but missing the mark with younger people who, though they may appear to be hostile, are actually growing frustrated while waiting to be let in.

        There are many different possibilities being touched upon in the article, calling for us to embrace traditional wisdom while remaining open to new approaches. If my article can be summed up in a sentence, that would be as accurate as any.

  • Brad Burgess

    Great article David, thank you for this. Being at The Segal Center now, and continuing into my second decade with The Living…I see this divide as one of our biggest issues as a field.
    There is very clearly a big disconnect between students, even arts students, and the professional art world. Aside from the lack of grassroots training that most artists will need to self produce outside of the support of an institution… there is just a general lack of awareness, unity, integration and orientation to the field for graduates, during or after the experience of college.
    For me, as a degree free person…my experience was that moving to NYC when I was 19, and just doing it, wound up getting me much farther ahead in many ways by the time I was of graduating age. When my friends were inviting their parents to graduation, I was inviting mine to the OBIES where I stood on stage with Judith. Aside from the self congratulatory nature of that last sentence…it’s got lots of relevant information in it.

    I was debt free with an OBIE at age 22, and had several choices I could make…the path I chose put me well on my way to meeting the ART/NY and Actors Funds and the advocacy and service organizations that construct the real cultural planning of NYC. I’m now generally the youngest person in the room in many of those circles, and in a leadership role at a prominent company…connecting to many parts of the city, where I do theatre workshops with the NYPD and teenagers together, and thinking about how to reach out to NYCHA to underserved populations etc etc…the exact group of this article.
    The reason this is relevant to this article, is that one of the major problems of reaching non arts students, is that arts students are so wrapped up in their own worlds, and then left to struggle mostly on their own (even those who are privileged…which is most arts students at this point)…that they wouldn’t be able to invite a friend who is an engineering student, or a med student, or a communications major…they spend all their time occupied by the University or College they attend’s curriculum and work schedule…
    You can take this back to grade school, where theatre is presented as reading Shakespeare, or seeing bad community theatre, or something the kids who don’t play sports do…

    The entire academic and edu/social structure around the arts is maybe the biggest problem in preventing what the article you have written is seeking. And it may not be attainable, until that entire structure is rethought.
    My feeling/hope is that institutions with endowments will be hopefully the first places to try new things, with students from all backgrounds, not bound by tuition and loans, and heavy reading and writing requirements or standardized testing…with more relationships to professional theatres, and community organizations that serve populations of people who don’t feel welcome in the theatre.
    It’s a microcosm of the divide between the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ of this country. And I do believe our ability to solve it can help progress the national culture as well.

    • David Dudley


      Thanks for this well-thought, expansive response. I’m especially intrigued by the idea that institutions with endowments lead the way in trying new approaches. There’s so much talk now about how to bring more young people into the fold, but relatively little consideration is actually given to their tastes. Of course what the article is reaching for may be unattainable. But the trick is to try – and to really meet these audiences we want to build halfway. If we can do this for that demographic, the process and its lessons may very well serve us all in the larger socio-political sphere.

      I’d also like to thank you for relaying my questions to Judith. I’ve been searching for the right place to share those words.