I Don’t Know Why I Go to Extremes

It happens every conference. More than once. More than many. We get requests like this from students:

“I want a really sad play; something that will make everyone cry and never see their lives the same way again.”

“I’m looking for the funniest play you have. I want the audience to be doubled over in laughter. I want them to damage their spleens from laughing so hard.”

(I’m exaggerating a bit. I don’t think anyone’s actually requested spleen damage.)

Their questions come from an honest place – they want to have a deep impact on an audience. They want to use their craft to its fullest extent.

But their reasoning is flawed. Here’s why.

  • Theatre isn’t a one-way broadcast, it’s a shared communal experience and the audience response can’t be manufactured.
  • Every audience is different. Every audience member experiences a play differently. It’s impossible to force a response or emotion on them. Send a group of retired nuns into a Justin Bieber concert and you’ll get a different response than the standard pre-teen girl audience.
  • Every actor is different. Every group of actors brings a different set of tools to a play. No two productions are the same. No two performances are the same. Just because a group gives a successful performance of a play doesn’t mean that every group will do so. Just because a group struggles with a play doesn’t mean that every group will do so.
  • It’s not just the script that elicits an audience response, it’s what you bring to it. Watch Richard Dreyfuss’s Richard III scene in The Goodbye Girl and you’ll see a great actor turn a dramatic scene into comedy. Same text, different performance.

That’s what I want to tell them, anyway. Instead, I usually hand them a funny comedy or a sad drama, tell them what I find funny or sad about the script, and leave it at that.

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About the author

Craig Mason