Rolando Teco has an article called Bring Back the Talk-Back at Extra Criticum today, saying that perhaps we’ve gone too far in banishing talk-backs for fear that they’ll be dominated by wackos who wonder why every line of every play doesn’t criticize George Bush.
(Well, he doesn’t actually say that directly; he says it may be “because many playwrights and directors have had to suffer through comments that were not helpful.” But judging from the comments that pop up in San Francisco, I have to assume it’s usually along the lines of, “With George Bush destroying our country, how can you have a play that doesn’t address….”)
I am actually a big fan of talk-backs. I find them the most exciting part of, say, the Bay Area Playwrights Festival (which uses the Liz Lerman model that actively discourages “not helpful” monologizing. It does exactly what Rolando says in the article:
…We had them after everything… readings, workshops, even our fully-staged performances. And you know what? Our audience came to feel a sense of ownership in our process. I’ve had plays of mine read twice at the same theatre and watched in amazement as not one but several people stood up to comment or pose a question on my play, prefacing their remarks with: “The last time I heard this play read…”
Isn’t this what we want from our audience? Don’t we want audiences to invest in specific scripts and their authors to the point where having offered feedback at a reading (or 2), they are curious to see the full production to find out how the piece has developed over time?
That’s precisely what happens at the festival. I remember feeling so excited at the end of Peter Nachtrieb‘s reading that I couldn’t wait to see Killing My Lobster‘s production. And isn’t the whole point of there being two (or 2) readings at the festival that you get to see the piece evolve?
I particularly like the idea of doing talk-backs after fully-staged performances. That’s what Campbell Scott did after The Atheist, and it was fascinating to hear how the piece came about and to hear the audience tell the performer directly, moments after the show, precisely how they felt.
But what about protecting the playwright? Maybe I worked in advertising long enough to have a thick skin, but I find it incredibly easy to listen to what an audience member says and read between the lines. Just like when a client says, “Make the logo bigger,” when what they really mean is, “This ad looks generic and you can’t tell it comes from our company” — sometimes when an audience member says, “I thought the lead character was a jerk and you’re a jerk for having created him,” what they really mean is, “You did a good job of creating a character that creeps me out.”
So, why not have a talk-back after everything and build a committed audience? And serve beer. (I’m not sure how that would help, quite frankly, but I’m on a mission for every theater to let me take beer into the show, so I’ll throw that in here.)