Some recent events:
Someone in my writers’ group brought in sections of his full-length play over the past few months whose set-up is this: in the future, old people will be eliminated because they are no longer of use to society. It’s satirical, it’s biting, it’s funny. And after a few scenes, it wasn’t my cup of tea. My mom, a widow, has had a rough few years (read between the lines: so have I). I had to move her first into assisted living and then six months later into a nursing home. In Florida. That would be the Florida that’s waaaaay far away from California, where I reside.
Many of the other writers and actors in attendance laughed all the way through but it just was salt in the wound for me. The writer did rewrite it (some of his changes seemed sparked by an observation I made about the passive wife in the piece, “So similarly, perhaps the Nazi wives had some thoughts about what their husbands were doing…”), and that provided better arguments for the other side, for which I give him major credit. But I still passed on going to see the full read-through and sent him an email explaining the situation with my mom.
Then a few weeks ago, another writer in our group brought in a short play set after the Civil War wherein a very graphic rape and murder were described. By the end, I had no idea what I was supposed to take away from the play, or what the characters learned or how they had an arc. In my comments, I gave the writer props for holding my attention the entire time, but I wondered for what purpose.
It’s true we can all write whatever we darn well want. I wouldn’t want anybody, even a fellow writer, telling me what or what not to write. But do we consider how much we might lose the audience with our subject matter or approach? Or do we just say frack the audience, I don’t care what they think or feel, I’m doing this for me.
I tend to come down on the side of WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER, me and the audience. I have a journey I want them to witness, to understand to some degree.
I think those two guys in my group care about what the audience response is, otherwise they wouldn’t be in a writers group where feedback is a part of the process. But they can’t tailor their work for just me, because my taste isn’t their taste. It’s an interesting line to walk.
And then there was this event:
Some friends and acquaintances went to see the movie The Kids Are All Right. I saw angry email subject lines from some of them and chose not to open those emails so I could see the movie with fresh eyes. But one of my closest friends walked out of the movie. I was stunned. Then I went to see it, and I and the friends who went with me that afternoon, loved it. So I was even more stunned. Yeah, all of the adult characters have major flaws and make bad choices. But they all learn something by the end. That to me makes an interesting journey and good drama. But perhaps my friend reacted for a deep reason I don’t understand (we haven’t talked about the movie yet). Maybe the movie hit her the way the play about snuffing out the elderly hit me.
Here’s to walking the fine line of getting an audience to go with you on the trip and staying true to your vision all at the same time.