Monday, December 27, 2010

Begging for an Audience

I have a strong emotional reaction to begging. I always feel like I'm being manipulated and conned. And that's basically what begging is. It's a guilt trip to play on your natural sense of selflessness. I don't like being manipulated. Or, more specifically, I don't like noticing that I'm being manipulated. If someone can manipulate me without me noticing, it probably means I'm having a great time.

I don't have a 'great time' when I find people begging me to 'show support' for my local amateur theatre. It seems to me that if you're relying on charity then maybe you need to revisit your product. Maybe if I don't want to come along and you're begging me to 'do the theatre a favour' you need to ask why I don't want to come along in the first place.

It's a weird situation when part of your hobby involves needing an audience for it to go well and be satisfying. You don't have this sort of problem with RC aeroplane pilots or stamp collectors. You do need it for ballet, and theatre, and music. It's also somewhat helpful for sports. It lives in that strange twilight of something you do for fun and something that is done to create a product. In the case of theatre it also needs quite a bit of money to get started. Theatre space isn't cheap to maintain. A couple of dud shows in a row and you're in real trouble.

And of course a "dud" show isn't necessarily a bad one. It's just one that didn't get a decent audience. It may be extremely good and extremely well reviewed but if it's not getting bums on seats then what do you do? In your frustration, and with your faith in the product, what do you resort to?

Well, you beg.

Please come and see my Brechtian re-imagining of 'Milo and Otis'.

You get down on your hands and knees and scream "WHY WON'T YOU COME?"

But the problem is that this comes across as more than just a little bit selfish and pretty darn insincere to boot. 'Please give me charity so that I can enjoy my hobby'.

You wouldn't do that for your stamp collecting or your rock climbing. 'Hey! I'm trying to raise money for a set of ropes.'

But then, people do try it. People who love slouch biking or rowing or motor-cross, go on massive tours. They get charities involved and raise money for the ride. They get their trip sponsored by charity and get to ride until they're sick of riding. All on the dime of people's selflessness and with the promise that all the left over cash goes to the charity in question.

The squeaky wheel always gets the grease.

The selfish, manipulative thing that it is.

Me personally? Well you can't pander to my sense of responsibly to supporting the arts. I don't have one. Instead, excite me about the prospect of getting value for money. Enthuse me about the product. I had the director of a play take me aside and tell me that even though I didn't enjoy the last play she'd directed the sequel was, she imagined, right up my alley and that I'd be missing out if I skipped out on it and that worked so much better than any amount of appealing to my charitable side.

Plus I laughed more at her play than anything else I saw all year.

Image by Minassian Livingston


  1. Kate Rohde had trouble posting this so I'm posting it from my account.


    I’ve asked for people to attend my shows before. I’m sure I’ve even asked you, Dan. You probably said no, to which I was unsurprised. Not because you are a contrary curmudgeon, but because I was in kids shows this year, and I really didn’t expect my childless adult friends to attend. You wouldn’t have been able to do so anyway because we were sold out!

    But I still asked, and likely, I will do so again, though maybe in a different way, now I know how to manipulate you more effectively. The point I have issue with in this post however is equating theatre to stamp collecting or rock climbing. (Also you seem to regard begging as a manipulation of your psyche, but as I have no wish to psychoanalyse you so early in the morning, I shall leave that one alone.)

    A better activity to relate theatre to would perhaps instead be some form of organised sport- maybe the local football team. Unlike stamp collecting and rock climbing, which are solitary activities no one but the person or persons actually participating benefits from, football, like theatre, can benefit everyone.

    In exchange for your twenty dollars to see a show or spending two dollars on the sausage sizzle, you not only allow a group of people to continue to better themselves but also get something directly back. You get to experience an hour or so of drama that strikes to the very core of the human condition. In very real ways, football can be equated to a form of civilised warfare, and could even be described as art (potentially).

    Football/ theatre teaches us about society, about right and wrong, about struggles and overcoming struggles. It transcends the mere experience of watching someone kick a ball around/ prance about on a stage. A good bit of acting and story, a good bit of footwork that becomes a story, actually becomes a part of us. If our experiences shape our world, then theatre and football can only improve our minds.

    If I cared at all about football, I’m sure these are the things I would enjoy in it. But I don’t. Instead I find my joy in experiencing the core of the human condition through the stories I see on stage. All I ask is that other people come experience it too, in exchange for a little of their money.

    So you see, it is only a little selfish. So little that I will feel very little guilt in begging- sorry, manipulating- you to come see the next of my plays that you have little interest in seeing.

  2. I've haven't made my case very well here. I mean to write about supporting "the Theatre" as an entity but I've come off sounding like I don't want to support my friends' pursuits.

    If someone comes to me saying 'I think you're going to enjoy this show', it feels like they care about me.

    If someone says 'Please see the show to support the theatre' I hear 'I'm trying to manipulate you into making sacrifices' out of a sense of duty towards the theatre.

    If someone says 'It would mean a lot to me if you'd come and see me do something I care about' then I'm all hands on deck.


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