These thoughts developed as a response to a great post by Robyn Linden of 11:11 Theatre Company in Boston, dealing with engaging audiences. I’ll be home in October and am looking forward to catching their upcoming Poe project!

My two cents, or twenty-five cents, starts here: I think artists of the future will have to wear multiple hats in order to remain successful and relevant – the art of promoting art is a tricky one, and generally isn’t something taught in art, theater, or music school. Yet let’s consider the possibility that confronting these issues is in itself a fundamental part of what it means to be an artist in the world, ca. 2010! Where I went to school (Eastman), this notion that we might actually have to worry that audiences wouldn’t automatically fall into our laps was just starting to catch steam when I graduated, and thankfully art schools seem to be tackling this problem more and more within curricula. Due in part to the pervasiveness of mass-mediated culture, it now seems there’s a full-on crisis in terms of reaching out to audiences – especially younger folks – and getting them involved and engaged. So how must an artist operate within that system?

I’m of the mindset that if we want our audiences to come in and stay engaged, we first and foremost MUST be making relevant work. Apart from producing rather bland art, the old paradigm of “appreciate art because it’s good for you” isn’t cutting it in the marketplace anymore – we have to be able to demonstrate and articulate to audiences WHY our work is relevant to their lives. Many young people don’t attend theatre because they don’t feel connected to the world of artists and the creative process – I think that “cliquey-ness” can be a big turnoff – so we need to find new ways to MAKE them feel welcome and involved in the process. So I don’t think a passive audience who just sits and “receives” art – the paradigm of the past – is the way to go. Shouldn’t being in the theatre feel like a truer, richer experience than lining up for the latest Hollywood blockbuster? Sadly, often times it just isn’t, and we can’t blame audiences for that. Mass-mediated culture succeeds partially due to mega-advertising budgets, certainly, yet it also provide a sense of shared community and currency that I think we lust for in the theater. How do we create that within our local communities? We want our work and our ideas to be discussed at that proverbial water cooler, and I think presentational ideas which challenge standard forms (flashmobs come to mind, even if they can get gimmicky) might open some of these avenues.

Ultimately we need to be willing to ask ourselves the tough questions about what it means to make art amidst what might appear to be an unconcerned citizenry. Yet as artists we must believe we’ve been entrusted with the responsibility to tell the stories and weave the myths of our generation. It’s a tough position, yet therein lies the challenge.

Some fairly random thoughts, sure. Anyone have further ideas they’d like to share?

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