First time fringer
Where and what is my audience?
Myself and four other female playwrights have a 55-minute show, 5 SIRENS: Beware of Rocks! One show of five 10-minute plays, about miscommunication and the longing for connection. We all felt, when we met months ago and decided to work together, that this theme could apply to our different pieces. Yet when I’ve turned to my usual group of friends and loyal ticket buyers, some people’s response to buying tickets has been withdrawn, almost muted or terse. Is it the month of June? That they’ll have to drive to Hollywood and brave the crazy parking nightmare that is the Fringe? Is it that they aren’t sure they want to see something I’ve warned them is for those over the age of 18 (language, adult themes)?
I do feel that some of our shows will challenge some people. But the people who expect a Disney ending shouldn’t be surprised, as they supposedly know my work and the work of the other writers. Maybe they’re tired of the dark themes I tend to explore. Yet, should I write for a particular audience? Make a happy ending to please someone else? Stupid questions, I know. Of course we shouldn’t write to please others, unless we’re hired to do so (or are writing for a specific audience — more on this later).
As playwrights and writers, I feel that it is often our job to explore hidden, subconscious, and sometimes emotionally laden subjects. Whether the writing comes out as comedy, drama, or a dreamscape, is up to the writer. People have said about my piece for the Fringe, “Well, that changes tone.” But life, to me, does change tone, and isn’t one note. Laughter often goes with tears, and without laughter, life would be unbearable. Theater, to me, can change lives in a way that movies, films, and books don’t. It is experienced right now, the plays themselves can make people think or argue or question preconceived ideas, and the emotions that come up can heal.
About writing for a specific audience, my play LEVELS was written for an audience consisting of abused women. It wasn’t my intent as a writer to entertain or make happy endings. I wanted to share my own healing at the hands (fists?) of abuse, and show that it was possible to find hope, healing, and love. After the performances of the play, women came up to me afterwards and repeated the same phrases: “I thought I was alone, that I was the only one who experienced this abuse.” “I’m not alone, or a freak, am I?” “Thank you, I thought I was the only one who reacted this way.” They were moved to contemplate the possibly of healing, of a shared experience, of a future that might be filled with hope, by a very uncomfortable theater piece.
So if those particular friends respond again with terse replies, I know now what I’ll say. Our job as playwrights is to write what we see and explore uncomfortable truths, and by bringing our writing to light in a performance, perhaps facilitate healing. “Be brave,” I’ll say. “And be willing to explore what theater, and the hearts of so many playwrights, have to offer. You might be surprised, moved, and unexpectedly changed.”
So where is our audience? I do know, even if a theater is bare except for one person, that one person may experience a life-changing event when watching what we write. They may see the possibility for hope. And they may also just laugh. So keep writing those plays, and sharing your vision. You never know who it will touch. And heal.