Friday, June 27, 2008

It was me, Tom.

As it now plays, only the 20something’s will laugh—the older more sophisticated theatre patrons will cringe at this show.

-- Tom Williams of, re: Gutenberg! The Musical!

I laughed at the Jewish jokes. I laughed at the feces jokes. I laughed -- and hard -- at the dead baby jokes. And you can take your 'sophistication' and shove it.

There was talk at Don's place yesterday of artist/audience relations and of artists taking interest in audience wants and needs. Scott, if you're reading, I ask you this: what are your thoughts on the occasions when it's not the self-involved artists who are the elitists, but the self-involved audience?



Scott Walters said...

I guess I'd say this, Paul: if the intended audience (the intended community) for this play is the 20-something crowd, then soldier on; if the intended audience is my age, not so good. You see, my idea for a theatre ensemble rests on the creation not only of a semi-permanent ensemble, but a semi-permanent audience. As much as possible, I want to have an ongoing relationship with my audience. So if I have an audience of retirees, and that's the audience I built and wanted, then choosing this show might be a mistake. If I am trying to create a theatre filled with young adults, this show might be a terrific choice. Williams' review warns away a crowd that probably won't like this show -- that's a good thing. But his comment about younger audience members laughing also serves to alert young people that their mileage may vary. That's what good criticism does -- it helps you make a judgment about whether a show will speak to you.

Paul Rekk said...

The problem is that the retirees I saw at the show (the night after Tom saw it) did enjoy it, and judging by the post-show discussions I overheard, more than I did. For different reasons, sure, as I was pretty much the only one laughing at the dead baby jokes, but they certainly weren't grumbling. Far from it.

To each his own, I guess. Unfortunately, this is the type of statement that will get written off by anyone of Williams' mindset because I am a 20something, but this (any) type of humor isn't bound by age, class, gender, race, etc. There are certainly safe bets that you can play on any of those factors, but in doing that you brush off a number of other potential audience members. As a proponent of diversifying over broadening, Scott, I would have assumed that you didn't want an audience of retirees or an audience of young adults, but one that can span both.

From what I saw, this did to a certain degree. From what I see, most things do to a certain degree, because people aren't categories.

If an theatre company came out billed a show as being for older, sophisticated theatre goers and not for 20somethings, it would be decried as prententious, elitist, and disrespectful of a wide swath of the audience. As far as I see it, the same rules apply for critics.

But what do I know? I'm only 25.

Scott Walters said...

If I were operating that theatre according to my beliefs, I would have a sense of my audience through experience. If it were a diverse audience as far as age, race, gender, class, etc., I would make a judgment about whether this play would communicate with them. Once I had a relationship of trust with that audience, then it wouldn't matter what a reviewer wrote, the relationship would over-ride it.

I have a feeling, though, that I am missing the point as far as your anger is concerned... I have a sense there is more than I am grasping.

Paul Rekk said...

Honestly, I'm earnestly trying to keep it from being a simple bias against Williams, because it's riding that line. But I do feel there is a greater point here.

I feel we are talking side by side here, Scott. My focus on this issue is less artist/audience relations than how that idea transfers over to critic/audience, critic/artist, and audience/audience relations. Like usual, I'm blathering on about bigger pictures and so on and so forth. But these things do have an effect on the representation and the response to an artist's work. It seems to me that these are important factors for any approach to theatre, from tribe to hardline My Vision, not so the artist can change them (because the artist can't), but so the artist can adjust and counter accordingly.

The most enticing part of theatre by your design, Scott, is the audience/artist trust relationship, but from where I stand, even if you do acheive that, there needs to be an acknowledgement and even embrace of all of these other factors, or it all ends in stasis. And stasis, even of an ideal setting, isn't good for anybody.

Of course, you have to realize that I'm also speaking as the pissed upon party here. You know how outspoken you get when Southerners or Rural Americans are stereotyped; brotha just called me and a good deal of my cohorts unsophisticated and dismissed a show entirely (it says Not Recommend, not Recommended, But Only For Twentysomethings) based on this judgement.

Scott Walters said...

Oh, I see! So you wouldn't agree that certain humor appeals more to certain age groups than others? I must confess that things like "South Park" baffle me, although I did like "The Simpsons." I don't know. I get referred to scenes and YouTube vids that many of my younger theatre bloggers are involved in and think are hilarious, and I find them not so much. But I wouldn't feel comfortable making a generalization (although I do think there is a dividing line that is marked by Monty Python, which I am just on the cusp of). For instance, the SNL vid "Dick In a Box" my stepson watched over and over, and he's really, really smart. Me? It was a funny idea, I guess, but I'm kind of past finding the saying of "dick" funny. But I love fart jokes. Again, hard to generalize. I think it is fine for you to cry foul on this one, Paul, and draw our attention to the repetition of stereotypes.