BWW Blog: Some Thoughts On Artistic Risk
Being a part of a live theatre process is dangerous stuff. Dangerous, personally, in somewhat obvious ways (as previously discussed here) for actors and those choosing the profession as their remunerative occupation.
I am sure, also, it is not difficult to imagine how it can also be dangerous for producers. Particularly those of us who choose to remain in the not-for-profit arena. This means that it is unusual a production will recoup its investment in earned revenue alone. And the budget is tight.
For stage directors, though, the danger lies in at least two very real potential pitfalls. As I was toasting our Taming of the Shrew actors Friday night during our post-opening reception with our audience, I mentioned how important I thought it was to have a care of the play which then might lead to a specific concept in which to address the story - a concept which will have become personal to the director and therefore hopefully to the audience, who are local. This conceptualizing is pure theory, imagined only in solitude. Then the designers enter, with the producer requesting to spend less, and then the actors speaking in time and space with their individual skills.
If, then, what has been imagined in solitude finds resonance with everyone above (25 people if we use our current Shrew production as an example), the most important component still has not entered the room - the audience. They tell us everything, and I don't mean commentary after performances. As humans we can feel the room shift, our breathing join, our laughter gather momentum, our care increase.
With Shakespeare, in particular, and even more dangerously, with his comedies, we find ourselves standing before strangers trying to be funny.
If you ever wondered why Broadway shows try out in the regional theatres and then in New York for months or years, this is why. The audience commits the artists or influences change. Not-for-profit theatre companies don't have that luxury in most cases.
Equally dangerous is the exposing of one's self as a director, which can be far more intimate than acting on stage. The final piece has had every component touched by the director, influenced or approved by the director, fought for and dreamt of by the director.
So it is with Tennessee Shakespeare Company's Taming of the Shrew, a production that uses no other production - stage, film, or otherwise - as inspiration or foundation. Yet it relies heavily on what we imagine to be an Elizabethan spirit of play, improvisation, and inquiry. The audience tells us each night how genuinely funny the story is, but they also tell us their thoughts regarding the issues of gender, race, and wealth. Buried not deeply in the story is an embracement of social change that seeks equality for all.
I know this will not be true for all audience members. Some have already told me directly they do not like the ending, though few have to articulate why. They insist they will think about it and get back to me. This, as a director, short of the patron attempting to articulate his/her thoughts or feelings at that moment, is my own litmus test for success.