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Archive for October, 2008

Stop, Look, and Listen

As the New York fall performance season gets gets underway, I can’t help but notice (again) that most of the folks watching so-called “downtown” (nee “experimental”) dance and performance are the same folks who make the stuff.

As the political campaigns reach a fever pitch, I can’t help but notice that the people most interested in watching either candidate are those who have already fervently made up their minds to support the one they are watching.

How is it that so many of us end up only preaching to our respective choirs? Is it because we’ve lost our ability to listen that we all end up just talking at people who are talking at us about the same things – leaving anyone without knowledge of the conversation (be it performance-related or political) to scratch their heads and walk away?

Leaving the political arena to other blogs, how can we as performance-makers find ways to interest those mythical “general audience” members without stooping to pandering? Do we even know what its like anymore to watch something without secretly thinking, “Well, I would have done THIS instead of THAT?” Are we even in touch with our experience outside of mental critique when watching performance?

Recently, as part of the discussion portion of THROW, the works-in-progress series I curate at the Chocolate Factory Theater, one of the artists showing work asked the audience to tell her what they FELT when watching the work she had shown. The responses were nearly all things like “I felt like you were trying to…” or “I felt like you were saying that…” When pushed to use emotional descriptions, only one person could respond in kind.

So, here’s my challenge to you (and myself): The next performance you see, focus on your emotional and physical response without immediately judging it mentally. Just like a meditation when you notice your thoughts and let them go, notice your mental comments and let them go. See what’s underneath. Are we capable of feeling anything? Are we capable of making things that inspire feeling beyond understanding? Until we can do both, I think we’ll have a hard time enticing anyone from the “outside” back into our audiences.

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