We Need To Give The People What They Want.
Updated: Jul 23
Only we don't really know what they want.
Planning a season of events has never been more challenging for a regional amatuer theatre company. We have a model built entirely on Box Office revenue generated by patrons who have discretionary income to spend on luxury outings like the theatre. But precisely how much discretionary income will be floating around out there amid the worst recession in history? Furthermore, if there is any discretionary finance, will it be spent on live theatre?
Producers need to consider plays and musical titles that not only have high title equity, but content that a post COVID world will need and want to see. The entire premise of theatre is to tell meaningful stories that teach us how to reflect upon ourselves during the good times and the bad times. The challenge we are faced with is to get people through the doors first. Then we can get them to reflect.
COVID 19 has swept the theatrical landscape with a blistering explosion, wiping the industry flat. It is safe to say that we will be reflecting on a bad time. Not only has the entire theatre landscape been totalled but our world is reeling from the devastating impact of being socially distant. As a society, mental health, wellbeing and domestic violence have all been let off the chain to run rampant among our family, friends and colleagues. I know I’m not alone when I say I can't wait for the heavy dark blanket to lift. But once it’s lifted, what does this mean? What will the world look like? What will we look like? What will we feel like? When will it even lift?
Answers = unknown.
As a producer, here’s some more questions; Will audiences need much convincing to return to the theatre?; Will audiences choose to spend their money on theatre?; What will audiences want to see? On one hand you would think the obvious answer will be that people will be gagging to get out and sit in theatres once again. Yet, on the other hand, our mission to build an audience base has been thwarted. All momentum to educate our regional Newcastle audience has come to a grinding halt. We must start building from the ground up and begin convincing a non-theatre going audience that there is indeed value in a night out at the theatre. The opportunity to escape and release will be needed. Comedy, not tragedy, will most likely prove popular. But, other than an experienced producing instinct and a gut feeling that people will want to laugh, there is no evidence to support the hunch.
We are also moving through a period of flux. We, as a community, are striving for gender equality, learning about an LGBTQ community, are rioting for racial equality and coping with the most uncertain political climate in Australian history. There is uncertainty, there is fear, there is anger, there is doubt, there is a fight in us and perhaps this means we are not prepared to settle for simple laughs. Our educated social opinions and ability to search for information at a lightning pace means we view ourselves with a higher responsibility to get things right, to do better, to educate ourselves and to always put our best foot forward. For if we are to put a foot wrong, or to express an unpopular opinion will be to face a storm of criticism and a wave of politically correct discourse. In this new social media system we are forced to always second guess, to stop and think, to evaluate, to judge and to take a side. Perhaps the need for release and escapism has never been higher.
Perhaps without us realising it, we are craving a few hours where we can laugh out loud at the simplicity of others. The cheap laugh, the simple unreserved, raw and unapologetic laugh is required to bring us back into sharp focus and to point out how unimportant life actually is. To break it back to a base evaluation of food, sex and money; all of the traits that the 16th Century Commedia Zanni would represent. Their needs were simple and they existed in order to bring authority to its knees. Not always political and powerful authority, but often popular topical agenda. They provided the release a society needed. Not just the chance for the lower and middle class to gawk and laugh at the upper class, but for one societal faction to make fun of another societal faction. Men to laugh at women, women to laugh at men, minorities to laugh at the privileged and the privileged to laugh at the minorities.
To cite an example, the Lazzo of the Princess set up Il Capitano’s romantic exploits. He would call for assistance from the two Tartaglias to re-enact the story before the audience of how he rescued the princess. However, the story would always end in Il Capitano looking like a fool. His braggery exposed and his pompous authority left naked. He would always exit the stage escorted by rapturous laughter at his expense. There was nothing funnier (and perhaps still) than seeing a powerful man exposed and brought to his knees.
The entertainment in those days was free. It was popular entertainment and was taken to the people. Tickets were not required...nor was finding a parking space. It was put in front of the people where they would be going about their lives in the marketplace, the street corner, the village square. Today that place is online, its YouTube, its Facebook, its Instagram. The memes are coming thick and fast and the jokes are endless. People need to laugh and unfortunately experiencing a laugh by ones self staring through a screen doesnt replace the feeling or need to laugh in a room full of other people all laughing at the same thing. The public domain is our yardstick by which we measure where we are up to as a society, as a community and as a people.
Our community has collectively suffered terrible loss and unified depression by being social distanced and deprived of the basic need to connect with other humans. The thing that has torn us apart will hopefully unify us in our urge to congregate, blow off steam and split our sides around the modern day camp-fire we call the theatre.
We’ve had the tragedy and hopefully on the other side it will be the time for comedy to reign for a little while. Hopefully it will be time to laugh at ourselves. Bring forth the Zanni.