Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Disection of a Run - or alternately - If You Build It and They DON'T Come Does It Actually Exist

I've been mulling the experience I have had this year of doing my original play, "4 at 40: Mothers' Letters To Their Daughters" in an art gallery for a performing space. It was a first experiment for the gallery in theatre and as first experiments go it was a mixed bag.

But we will slog on and take what we have learned hopefully and be able to apply it to the next play which will start in Feb. at the odd run, but much shorter than my own, of two performances a month for five months. I performed my play two performances a month this year in April, May, June, September, October and November. Each month it was a new struggle to get publicity and listings in the local weekly. Unhelpfully the weekly did not publish our listing - one month printing absolutely no local listings at all and the following month randomly selecting listings. That did nothing for our audience turnout let me tell you. On my second to last performance my brother-in-law was the only one in the audience who hadn't seen it already....

Which brings me to my semi-point. If you are talented for no one are you really? If I give a brilliant performances in the mirror, am I still brilliant? For years I had struggled the actor's struggle that is if you have no venue, no play, no audience you have no performance, you only have you being ridiculous in afforementioned mirror. I suppose musicians are largely in the same boat. You could be a brilliant songwriter but if no one ever hears your songs then you are what? Without recognition and the ever so important audience, are you really a performance or just a fool?

And then there are those performances where you feel like so much a trained monkey for an audience that you know is not so much valuing you as being patronizingly charmed by you. There have been some nights on stage where I have almost expected coins to come hurling my way.

This is an odd inner struggle. On the one hand I dread the prospect of there being an audience at all. On the other hand I feel foolish if there is not one, or rather not enough of one to give them and yourself the distance of anonymity. If there are too many of the audience they feel safe their laugh or cry will not be singled out for ridicule and likewise if you are performing in front of a happy and appreciative audience then one is certainly enough - but you can't get passed the odds game - more audience members, more likely to be a good audience.

Sean Penn so succinctly described this strange state of the performer when he said in a recent Iconoclasts that he tries to hide from the rest of the crew on a movie set how much he really dreads performing. And yet he still does it. On a much smaller scale, of course, I feel the same. I dread performing and I am compelled to do it. And then there are times when it is joyful and times when that slides toward trained monkey.

I've been trying to figure out the lessons in this experience. One is that when I do my own projects in my own way I feel successful. I feel proud of myself. Whether "4 at 40" was a success depends upon how it is judged. We sold out the house only once to a private audience, which was great. We got good turnout about half the time and little turnout the rest. It was reviewed glowingly but the review gave us very little by way in bump in sales. Every audience member who stayed after to speak with me was thrilled and moved to have seen the show. And that was probably half at least... so it's really six of one, half a dozen of the other.

I guess it is good that I just did it. I proved to myself that I could take on the whole thing. I would have loved for the audience to have been full every night - and we certainly would have been much fuller each night if all those who had promised to attend had. But at the same time I know what we are trying to do is, in this place, unprecidented. If we were in LA or SF or NY or even Seattle or Chicago people would have just scoffed "What, theatrical performance in a gallery space, how droll, how yesteryear, how been there done that!" But in Palm Springs people just really can't wrap their minds around it.

What we have out here is solidly and proudly 'community theatre' and what we are trying to do is professional theatre in a very small space, with original plays, with high performance level... one wouldn't think that would be a stretch of the imagination but I get the sense that people don't really believe it's real yet.

Ah, life and career. Again and probably over and over I will wonder, does my best work go unseen? Is it ME who fails to attract and audience? Do I just not know HOW to work the publicity machine? If an actor falls off stage but no one is in the audience, does he make a sound as he hits the front row seats?

1 comment:

demondoll said...

As far as talent goes- you have it spades, no worries. You have it.
I think you definitely could use marketing help for the distinct PD challenges. Is there a free or inexpensive on-line listing you can join?