The other day on Twitter, Theater J asked what I instantly thought was a great series of questions, which I will paraphrase here:
What would your ideal post-show discussion look like? Where is it? Who is it with? What is it about?
My ideal post-show discussion would not, first and foremost, be a talk-back. It wouldn’t be a chance for the audience to ask questions of the artists who created the show. That paradigm, I hope everyone will agree, is played.
Instead, I’d make it a collective discussion, moderated not by anyone involved with the creation of the play, but by some member of the community who in some way speaks to or engages with whatever ideas or issues are raised by the story that’s being told: for a play about an arsonist, a firefighter; for a play about breast cancer, a breast cancer survivor.
During my ideal post-show discussion, everyone would sit wherever they heck they wanted to sit. In the house, on the stage, wherever. There would be no distinction between where artists and audiences sit, because there would be no distinction between how they participate in the discussion. No one would be presumed to have any particular expertise or lack thereof.
The discussion WOULD happen in the theater, though, if only because sitting among or near the objects that helped create the story would likely inspire a deeper engagement with the discussion. Think of them as totems or icons.
And yet, perhaps there would also be a designated space outside the theater at which a further, even more informal discussion might continue, somewhere from which everyone might get some distance from the story, some physical and emotional and intellectual perspective on it.
In my ideal post-show discussion, artists would be welcome to attend, but not required; they would, however, be so engaged with the material that they would choose to stay and participate as often as their lives would allow. At least one representative from the creative team would be present to speak for the story’s creation every time.
And yes, my ideal post-show discussion would happen every single night. (This, I realize, will be the hardest bit of my vision to swallow, though I know of a few theaters that already make this a standard practice.) To my mind, a play is only worth the effort required to put it on if the story it tells wrestles in some way with the issues that are living and breathing in a community. A theater is only of service to its community if it provides a venue for those discussions to live and breathe. One post-show discussion a run, or even two, is valiant, but isn’t enough to make that happen.
So my ideal post-show discussion would happen every night of a run, include as many members of the creative team as possible (though on a voluntary basis), occur both in the theater (with participants sitting wherever they like) and outside it, and be moderated by a community leader of some sort. But that’s not all.
I would also dedicate one person — a writer — to attend every single post-show discussion in the run. Someone who’s job would be to listen, to take notes, to find threads of the conversation, to think and ponder and research, and ultimately to write something that both represents and challenges the collective mind of the theater’s audience after the run of the show is over. If not a writer, then how about a painter? A photographer? A choreographer? A radio reporter? Somebody to create something.
Oh, and refreshments of one sort or another ought to be on offer, too. (Extra revenue for the theater? A way to make the discussion lighter and more engaging?)
That would be my ideal post-show discussion.
P.S. As long as people are staying after, it might also be nice to ask them what sort of stories they’d like to be told, then find a way to use that feedback during season planning. Just a thought.