September 12, 2009

Join the Conversation

Last night, at our first preview for Fences, we started something new.

I'm going to introduce Literary Associate Charles Haugland to tell you all about it:

Most nights this season at the Huntington you may hear a new announcement about an experiment we're trying: "After tonight's performance, there will be a post-show discussion".

Are you curious? Here's what we're thinking:

The Huntington makes theatre. People who know their Greek will tell you that the word that theatre came from meant place for seeing. Is that how this theatre works? Sure. When I buy a ticket, I am a spectator. We call those people onstage actors. Theatre's that thing that happens when we watch them.

But, when the staff talks around the office, Peter DuBois sometimes slips in this sentence: Theatre is a conversation. He says it pretty often, and it's a simple remark, so it can fly in one ear and out the other. But, the sentence sticks with me. How is theatre a conversation?

For me, it means at least two things. First, Peter is saying that watching is really active. Attention is palpable, and actors fight to get it and keep it. Are they focusing differently because I just coughed? When I laugh in a new place, does it change their rhythm? What if I react differently than they are expecting? One spectator changes a whole performance.

But more deeply, I think he's saying that people put stories onstage because they want to talk to the people that are offstage. He programs a play because he is compelled to share that story, to invite others to hear it, to talk with others about it. So when the idea was floated last spring to do discussions with the audience after the show, I said to Peter, We have to do this! Its exactly what you talk about! Theatre is a conversation.

We'll be doing six discussions a week during the run of FENCES, and the format will evolve all year long. Sometimes it will be Peter leading the discussion, sometimes its Lisa Timmel (who is the Director of New Work), sometimes it's me, sometimes it's one of the other theatre geeks who work for the Huntington. But, were not hosting the discussions so that we can tell you things -- what were most interested in is what you'll say to us and what you'll say to each other.

Conversation is not nearly as old a word as theatre - conversation only goes back about six hundred years - but it surprised me to learn today that it didn't originate from the idea of two people talking. The root actually comes from a word that means to live with. So, join us after a show, and live with the play the ideas it brings about, the feelings it brings up, the way it works on you for fifteen or twenty minutes longer.

See you there.

Charles Haugland

Last night about 70 patrons stayed afterwards and chatted with Lisa Timmel. Tonight is Charles' turn. The discussions will not take place after Saturday and Sunday evening shows, and when there are other regularly scheduled discussions scheduled (such as Sneak Previews, Humanities Forums, Actors Forum, Playwrights Forum, and Out and About Club).

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