Theatre has long been a large part of my life. I can remember so many performances in my backyard for family and friends. I had tickets and snacks to go with my carefully rehearsed show. Just like any 8 year old diva, I also had big visions and opinions to match. I thought the stage would be my career all the way up until I was about 19 years old when reality set in. I just decided that it wasn’t for me once I really understood what it entailed. Still I get giddy and simply love the theatre and all performance art for that matter. I feel so lucky and blessed to still get to work in it everyday. Who knew that marketing a show could be just as creatively gratifying as being in it. Still, many people my age don’t see theatre regularly and I have a few theories as to why, but the main one is accessibility. I really think that people shy away because they don’t think its for them or they believe its for the culturally elite. I’m not sure if you feel this way or not, but from my experience, its fairly common. I think its so sad that such a large population of young professionals are missing out and maybe if they had a better idea about how to connect with the performances, they might engage them more often. I thought it would be nice to share some of what I know when it comes to critiquing a play so the next time you see one, you can know what to look for and how to assess what you’re seeing on stage. Seeing theatre is truly an experience. As opposed to a movie, you’re connecting to the actors on stage and participating in the overall experience as a whole instead of just being an observer. You and your energy have an impact on the show itself. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a few tips for seeing and critiquing a play so that more people might feel compelled to see more theatre and be active participants in their local art and cultural scene.
1. Theatre Etiquette-
There is a certain standard of behavior when seeing a live performance. You would think that some things would be downright obvious, but you just never know.
Cell phones are to be turned off ALL the way. When you’re in a movie and your phone rings or even just buzzes, you’re disturbing the people around you, but when it does so in a theatre you’re potentially disturbing the people on stage, which could impact their concentration and cause them to lose momentum and energy of performance. This is especially so in a small space. The same thing goes with talking, whispering and even moving around excessively in your seat.
Eating and drinking could also be disruptive. Many theatres don’t even allow food or drink inside, but if they do be sure to keep it quiet.
Photography and video is absolutely prohibited. The only people allowed to take pictures are those working for the theatre and chances are they’re going to do that on a final dress rehearsal or a preview performance and even so, they don’t use a flash.
Always arrive early for the performance. It is disruptive to everyone when you’re taking your seat after the performance has already began. Many places won’t even seat you until the first scene is over and the actors are in a transition. Plus you’ll want to time to flip through your program and read all about the show and the people who worked so hard to make it happen.
2. What is the purpose
Just like a movie it is important to judge the show based on what kind of a show it is. You’re never going to hold ‘Dumb and Dumber’ to the same standard and ‘Good Will Hunting’ and the same goes for theatre. Is the show meant to be a slapstick comedy or a timely political piece? Is it meant to simply make you laugh and take your mind off the day to day or is it meant to make you think and form an opinion about something specific. Take the time to understand what the purpose is behind the show before you see it as this will greatly inform how you critique the show and what your expectations are.
3. The Script
When seeing a show, be sure to segment what is the script and what is the delivery of the script. Keep in mind that scripts come with rights and royalties and most of the time theatres don’t have the creative license to make changes without facing penalties and other trouble. If you hated a line that was intended to be funny, was it because the line wasn’t funny or the actor didn’t deliver it in such a way that made you understand the comedy of it? Many times people have a hard time deciding if they didn’t like the show itself or the job the theatre did performing it. I hate the show ‘Oklahoma’ and it doesn’t really matter what a production team does to it or how good the acting is, I hate the show. It wouldn’t be fair for me to critique a show I don’t like when there isn’t any hope for the people doing the best they can with what they have.
I really hope that this gets you off to a good start in thinking about theatre and performance. Stick around in the coming weeks for more tips.