Tag Archives: audience

“Where and what is my audience?” – playwright Laurel M. Wetzork is at the Fringe!

by Guest Blogger Laurel M. Wetzork 

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I’ve turned to my usual group of friends and loyal ticket buyers, some people’s response to buying tickets has been withdrawn, almost muted or terse.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.

For tickets to “5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks” go to http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2125?tab=tickets 5 Siren playwrights: laurel m wetzork, sarah dzida, laura steinroeder, autumn mcalpin, kiera nowacki, caron tate. Laurel is the LA FPI Onstage Editor.

Art (& Empathy) in a Time of Terror II

Continued from yesterday’s post:

Of course, we know that art matters. Especially – and mostly – those of us who work within it.

Still, it’s difficult to conceive of why I should bust my butt to get people to see a play while Watertown is locked down.

After seeing "Walking the Tightrope" at 24th ST Theatre
After seeing “Walking the Tightrope” at 24th ST Theatre

Short-term, all I need to remember are the happy faces of kids who think going to the theatre is fun, and parents relieved to find a place that welcomes families. Not only do they not have to find a babysitter, they can enjoy an experience together.

So that helps. It really does.

Even then, my conflicts usually come to the surface because there has to be something else – bigger, better, that reaches more people – there has to be some faster way to spend my time to create a better world. Right?

Maybe there is. Maybe there isn’t. Maybe I’m in the exact right place to introduce more people to more stories that create empathy in their lives. Marketing has such a bad connotation to it, when in fact I should be called an Audience Ambassador. My job(s) is to find a way to bridge the vast gap between quality family programming and the elusive where the parents are.

(It’s not really so elusive. We know where they are: in schools, in parks, at work, visiting ill family members, volunteering at their school fund-raisers, writing blogs to tell their own stories.)

Last Friday, I had to go to 24th ST Theatre. I had two guests taking photographs of the guest clown rehearsing his performance. As the staff transitioned from a performance space to an arts education/after school space, I worked in the lobby. There something happened which is not unique to this space, but which always manages to get me.

A young kid – 9-11 years-old at the most – saw my MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) sticker on my laptop and asked me about space.

So we talked about it. We talked about robots on Mars and what that teaches us about our own world. We talked about what life means, and why alien life forms may not be anywhere close to human form. Maybe they are. We don’t know yet, and we could find more information in his lifetime.

Then he had to go to After Cool, where the main parts of drama they teach include: expression, public speaking, story-telling and empathy.

Part of my job is to then tell their great stories from class to increase the program’s exposure and maybe funding down the line.

Back after the Newtown shootings, I also had a reason I had to go to work that day. It turned out to save me. I had to go, even though all I wanted to was crawl into my cave and cuddle with my dog.

We had a Parents Night for After Cool. This being my first time, I had no idea what to expect. Students of all ages packed their parents into our space and showed them vignettes of their greatest fears and their greatest hopes.



The best part: their parents heard them.

Back to last week.

It is incredibly difficult to simultaneously look at to-do list and live stream of a bombing close to where a high school boyfriend told you he loved you. It is difficult to call your parents and want to know they’re okay, want to just hear their voices as you look at this horror, and they need to discuss something else entirely with you.

How can you bug me about calling my grandfather *again* and not being excited enough about good news form the family when THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?

That is what I want to scream.

But they don’t know that I just needed to hear their voices over the police scanners and the twitter rumors.

They don’t know that because I don’t tell them.

And what matters to them when they hear from me is to figure out how to ask me to make two phone calls (even when they know I will get mad at the messenger).

And when all I want to do is figure out how to make a better world, I can actually start with my own family.

2 phone calls.

Maybe adults could use a Parents Night just as often as kids lucky enough to be in an after school program.

If I had to tell my parents my greatest fears:

That Dad returned to the Marathon because he missed quality time with his girls and as a result, got caught in the bombings.

My greatest wish:

That I could have the life I love without being 3,000 miles away from the folks who helped me create it.

Empathy has to start somewhere, often closer to home.

Maybe I should start with why I had time to write this blog post but not enough time to make two phone calls.

Next: Clowns and Hope

Guest Post: Thoughts on Smart Phones and Live Performance

Guest Blogger- Laura A. Shamas, LA FPI Co-Founder and National Outreach Agent

Last year in London, I saw a huge advertisement in the Underground: plain black type on a white background without any big graphics. I’ll paraphrase the content: “See this ad? Do you have any ideas about what should be written here? If so, we want to work with you. As more ads in public places become interactive with smart phones, we want to work with the idea innovators. Contact us at ——-.”

I have thought about that ad for over a year. I’m not a futurist or a tech whiz. But I am quite interested in how interactive ads in subways will affect the practice of theater.

Think there’s no connection?

Already, we have ongoing debates over the value of Tweet Seats in theatre: will they bring in more “young people”? Marketing departments certainly hope so. Some new theaters are building Tweet Seats into their venues.

Speaking for myself, in the past 5 years, I’ve been in many theaters (some at the Equity-waiver level, and some with very expensive ticket prices) only to have my viewing experience marred by the bright light of a cell phone in a row ahead of me. In a university theater in Texas, where one of my own shows was being produced, the tech crew told me that they heard every ping of texting in the theater on their headsets; it interfered with calling the cues. If you’ve seen War Horse, you know they inform you in the program that if you use your cell phone during the show, it will possibly cause harm to the performers. But when I saw it in New York at Lincoln Center, that didn’t stop someone in my row from using hers twice. Last weekend, I watched someone use his while on the front row of an L.A. Equity-waiver house of 50 seats. The bright green glow of his phone could be seen throughout the small venue. But he couldn’t seem to put it down; the ribald action on the stage immediately in front of him could not compete with his own dialogue with someone via text on his smart phone.

And that’s my point. The ping of instant gratification that one receives from texting, tweeting, or interacting with an advertisement: is it something that can be controlled? Or has our collective response to our smart phones already become “Pavlovian?” Is it the world of WALL-E already, with everyone glued to a screen? From what I’ve observed, cell phone usage in theaters is, increasingly, standard behavior. (I have definitely noticed this in movie theaters, too.) Is electronic addiction here to stay?

What do lighting designers, whose work is interrupted by the radiant glow of cell phones, think of Tweet Seats? Two lighting designers shared their thoughts with me via e-mail: Martha Mountain and Andrew F. Griffin.

Martha Mountain writes: “My knee jerk response to Tweet Seats is: oh no, it’s bad enough that people can’t turn the damn things off to watch the play as it is, don’t encourage them! But I would be prepared to accept Tweet Seats if they were BEHIND everyone else. And they have black scrim around them. The light from the smart phones is just distracting – it pulls my attention away from the stage and annoys me. I get Twitter (I think), I use it. But there is a time and a place – like the lobby and the bar afterwards.”

Andrew F. Griffin says: “I tend to agree with Martha on this. Before you get into the distraction factor of others in the audience there to watch the show, tweets capture a snapshot in time, but to capture that snapshot you need to stop paying attention to what’s happening in front of you. Tweet Seats encourage people not to pay attention to what’s happening in front of them on a level any deeper than what’s cool that I can write about in 140 characters or less every two minutes. As a result, the viewer’s experience is lessened and the impact of what is before them is diminished. Martha, of course, covered my feelings exactly when it comes to how we deal with the light and the distractions from the phones. I believe phones should be checked just like a jacket on the way into the theatre.”

As a playwright, I agree with Martha and Andrew. I want the audience to be caught up in a play completely– at every level, not involved with texting someone throughout or documenting the action of the play as it unfolds (an analytical function). We’re told by scientists that the human brain works in a hierarchical modality—meaning one function always takes precedence over another. You may think you can multi-task, but your brain is always putting one task in a primary position. That’s why you should never text and drive, for example. Don’t the theatre artists onstage, who create a show in front of you, deserve your full, undivided attention, too? To add a consumerist note to this: you are paying to see their work. Don’t you want your psyche to get the “full value” of the experience?

Yet, when I attended the TCG National Conference in 2011, I heard a prediction that in the not-so-far-away future, we’re all going to be hardwired and part of a collective brain. When I first heard that, I thought: Ha! Not me! But I’m guilty, too; and if you use a smart phone, so are you (even if you’re just checking your e-mail). If I want “encyclopedic” confirmation on a subject these days, I’ll look up a fact on my smart phone in the moment—which, in concept, is somewhat similar to being plugged into a centralized electronic brain. And yes, I’m on Twitter, too.

Is smart phone usage truly “participatory,” a way to engage during a show? Or is it more narcissistic, a way to privilege one’s own thoughts/feelings over those in/of the show? These types of questions about theater, and the new interactive chips in ads/posters (which allow us to buy products instantly via smart phones), leave me wondering about the future of live performance in the years ahead, and how changes will affect our art, our minds and our psyches.

Got an opinion or prediction on this topic? Please comment below.

End Results…

Sometimes, things fall through the cracks.  Sometimes the hard journey through the cracks is the best one that can be taken as an artist. Enduring the pull and stretch can be just what is needed to help create a fresh perspective or an authentic moment that can take art to the next level.

 …the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, neither is bread to the wise nor riches to men of intelligence and understanding nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. [Ecclesiastes 9:11]

Time and chance happens to us all — an equalizer of sorts.   Knowing that, it is a little easier to decide that no matter what we go after, we have the right to expect the end result to take us some place intriguing – some place that will allow us to grow.   We must remember that how we view our world has a lot to do with how we manage in our world.  One can be so wrapped up in the circumstances that the result can be overshadowed.  But end results are like mistakes, everyone makes them; it is not if you will make a mistake but when you make a mistake, it’s how you recover that matters most.

So, the best results can come after the worst experiences as lack luster ones can come after the greatest fanfare.  However they come, one must be aware and celebrate them.  Or, you’ll miss the fact that after days on edge trying to cast your play for a reading, you have the best talkback of your life.  Does the struggle overshadow the win?  It shouldn’t.  Does the win overshadow the struggle?  It should.

I just had a  reading at a festival that was a challenge getting everything in place.  However, the last minute casting got me actors and non actors that really felt my play and discussed it up to an hour after the reading.  And they went deep — both actors and audience members.

I came away feeling that I had conquered the world…  The end result made it all worth it.  I think had there not been a challenge, in this instance, my end result would have been less spectacular…and less exactly what I needed to for my piece.

Are You Not Entertained?

First a quick bit of LA business: The Lakers Won! The Lakers Won! The Lakers Won! 

Okay, moving on. . . 

I love movies. That might seem like a strange thing to say in a playwriting blog, but I gotta go there. I love movies. 

In fact, I became a playwright because of a movie. When I was twelve, I saw The Right Stuff. I thought Chuck Yeager was the coolest dude since Han Solo. When I found out that the guy who played Chuck Yeager was a playwright whose plays were on the shelf at the local library, I started reading and liking it. However, it was years before I actually considered myself a playwright. I had to go through a Corellian smuggler phase. 

I love movies. I’ll watch all kinds of movies. I try not to watch the same movie over and over again, but sometimes I just can’t help it. One movie that I’ve seen more than twice is Gladiator. Yep, Gladiator. I know I’ve just shot my wad of intellectual street cred, but gosh darn it, I like that Gladiator picture. 

Now, yes, there are other movies that I think are better. If you want to watch a good Russell Crowe picture, I recommend LA Confidential. If you want to watch a good Ridley Scott picture, I recommend Black Hawk Down. If you want to watch a good sword and sandal picture, Ben-Hur still rules the nest. 

But still, there’s something about Gladiator that makes me smile. Maybe it’s the sandals. Maybe it’s the good old fashion revenge plot. Maybe it’s muscles and machismo. Maybe it’s the lone female character who manages to be both smart and look good. Maybe it’s all the golden colors. 

Gladiator also has a streak of theatricality running through it for good measure. The gladiators don’t just kill people. They kill in front of the crowd. 

Win the crowd, and you will win your freedom. Proximo, the gladiator producer, tells Maximus, the rising young performance artist. 

How does one win the crowd? In the Gladiator world, it’s not enough to just kill. There should be some excitement. There should be some flare. 

In the film, the excitement comes from quick cutting, great cinematography, some excellent sound editing, and blood, lots of blood. 

But how does one generate excitement on a stage? How does one win the crowd as a playwright? How does one give the audience something they’ve never seen before (to quote Maximus)? 

Plays happen in front of people. What exactly are they watching? Is it enough for them just to see actors speaking articulately? Is there something else? Something more in the physicality and the visual world of the play that can heighten the experience for the audience? 

Should a play always be accessible to the audience? Can a play be hostile to the audience? Can a play be baffling to an audience but still keep them in their seats? 

 Can a play throw a sword into the balcony seats, pace around an arena, and shout, ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE?