The following material originally appeared in Steven Gomez’s blog, Theatrical Experimentation, in February 2013. The first is a response to a writing prompt (“Who do you create your work for, and how does this influence your creative process?”) at the STANCE gathering on February 18th. The second is an independent blog post of Steven’s.
We chose to publish these two pieces in conjunction because we feel they provide a multidimensional perspective on one community member’s thinking about audience engagement—the first from the angle of the artist, and the second from the angle of the audience member. Spirited discussions around audience engagement and the audience member’s and artist’s relationship to criticism (among other topics) emerged from Culturebot‘s Everyone’s a Critic at On the Boards on March 7th, and we’d like to keep the discussion going:
1. Who do you create your work for? How does this influence your creative process?
2. How would you characterize your relationship to criticism, as an artist or audience member? Does it influence your process, or the way you respond to work?
3. What kinds of critical conversations are occurring in your community? What—if anything—do you think is missing?
I. Who do I create my work for, and how does it influence my creative process?
I find it dismaying when artists focus more on creating work for their own fulfillment than on their connection with their audience. Focus on fulfillment is well and good, if your work’s ultimate audience is private, without cost. However, once I charge an audience admission to witness my work, I consider it a personal responsibility to communicate with value to my audience.
Value is not selling out. It is an exchange of meaningful substance.
Any work you present to your audience is subject to their scrutiny. You ask of them some degree of sacrifice (their money, time and attention), and in return you sacrifice the leverage of control over perception of your work. The moment you begin presenting for a witness, judgment of your work is passed to your witnesses, your audience.
No matter how personal my motivations for making work, I ultimately create work for the general public—often people I don’t know and whose mindsets I possibly don’t understand—but to whom I must communicate the work I have cultivated for them to see.
While most artists give little thought to audience perception in the process of creating work, I find it to be an important consideration as I craft my ideas into a cohesive piece. I am ultimately communicating, and if I’m not understood in a meaningful way, my effort to communicate is for naught.
II. On our local culture’s aversion to real criticism
We’re afraid to openly, honestly and constructively criticize each other because we’ve created a culture in which people are culturally taught to attack and ostracize anyone who takes significant or fundamental issue with their work, e.g. long stretches are boring, it lacks identity, it’s not compelling, whether as a whole or in significant parts…real problems that impact whether or not the public is willing to pay $10-20 or more and invest 1-3 hours of their limited free time to see it.
We need to recalibrate our culture so that it’s acceptable to be constructively blunt. Tact is an excuse not to tell the truth out of a belief that the truth would upset someone who has made the mistake of considering their own art sacred. Most people who speak up about a piece needing work do so because they care about the performer and the work and want you to succeed—not because they hate you and want to cut you down. If they wanted to cut you down or wanted you to fail, they would just ignore your work (and there are plenty of people I know in the scene who don’t like me and handle it by doing just that).
You should not be verbally/textually attacked by people or given the cold shoulder at events and shows by entire groups of friends because you spoke up about not liking a particular show or performer’s work, or said something someone doesn’t agree with. Our culture needs repair.
Steven Gomez comes from a world of theatre, clown and comedic improv. He is now studying and developing his own brand of theatrical dance.