Sunday, February 20, 2011

metaDRAMA: Music To My Ears

"Hello Flux," reads a recent blog posting on the website of the Flux Theatre Ensemble. "I didn't know about your company or this show until I read the NY Times review. I noticed it because I have a friend who is obsessed with all things post-apocalyptic." The anonymous commentator, writing in a thread for "Audience Feedback" on their latest show, Dog Act, continues: "The cart is truly amazing. I could barely take my eyes off it. The costumes and props were also wonderful. I loved all the detail and care that had been taken with those specifics. Becky Byers performance was great! I also enjoyed the physical work done by all the actors." And how's this for honesty? The poster ends with this bittersweet notice: "The story didn't really grab me but there were some lovely moments and ideas in the text." Consider, however, that the author left this note on the actual Flux site -- not on the Times site, which already allows commenting, and not as an IRL comment to her doom-oriented friend. Now having actively contributed to Flux (and potentially reading some of the other posts on the site, which we'll get to a moment), isn't this author -- whether s/he liked it or not -- likely to check them out again in the future?

This is what I love about Flux: they're actively engaged with their audience, and I'm sure that once their show wraps this weekend, artistic director August Schulenberg (or other members of his company) may drop by their comment boards and add a few responses regarding intent or execution. And they're not just engaged with their audience -- they're engaged with their critics, too. Rather than simply cherry pick quotes -- and I'll use their response to my own review as an example -- note the following consideration: "He has some interesting thoughts about the structure of the second act - I myself find the song around the fire the final bonding experience that allows for the critical balance shift between Vera, Jo-Jo and Zetta - what do you think?" It's a lovely continuation of the conversation between artist and audience, critic-as-audience, and critic and artist -- not a disavowal of reviews, but not a "let's-leave-it-at-that" either. It's an attempt to communicate; more than that, it's a mark of determination on their part to understand and grapple with what might turn people off about shows -- not so that they can avoid doing shows like that in the future, but so as to work even harder on their part to make sure that they can turn those people on to shows of that nature.

Spider-Man is having focus groups, and I hear they've now hired Robert Aguirre-Sacasa to come in and fix up the book, but it's all the behind-the-scenes secrecy and lack of engagement with the public as a whole (ironic, for a show subtitled "Turn Off the Dark") that is spinning a web of gossip. I can't help but wonder what they, and other theaters -- particularly ones like Playwrights Horizon and Soho Rep, which have talkbacks and terrific online and in-theater material to give additional depth about the show -- might gain from following in Flux's footsteps and looking to sustain conversations with its audience, conversations that make it clear where everyone's coming from -- and where it's all going. I've said it a million times on this site -- in fact, I started this sub-series of posts, "metaDRAMA," because of it -- but it's all about sparking conversation about a show, and keeping that theatrical experience alive a little longer. Anything to that end, whether it's a complaint, a critique, or a compliment, is music to my ears.

1 comment:

Emily Owens PR said...

I agree! I wish more theatre companies worked at engaging their audience and holding an open dialogue about reviews (both positive and negative) like Flux does.