Nor is Clapp alone in her sentiments. One of my favorite artistic directors anywhere in the world, Martha Lavey of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, also recently came out against a particular form of participation, using Twitter in the theatre, saying that the job of the audience is to sit back and soak in the art.
These are both professionals in the arts world that I respect tremendously and that have done critical work in building the theatre community of Chicago (and I could admittedly sit and listen to Lavey speak for hours at a time, completely enraptured), but I come down well on the other side of this debate. I would even argue that both of these amazing thought leaders undermine their own arguments.
Clapp recognizes in her post:
I love public and community art projects that draw people in to something that is larger than them, that results in a creation that asserts our humanity. And I think places where creativity is encouraged are magical – places like Lill Street where I make my pots and Old Town School of Folk Music.
We are not those places, we are the places where we hear the voice of another, where we set aside our own need to be heard and listen and are uplifted and fortified because we have seen something that truly had something to say – something that spoke to us like nothing else before.
I find it difficult to reconcile that difference. After all, Old Town doesn't just do classes. I've seen a number of amazing shows there as a member of the audience (though I've gotten up to dance at times). It seems almost like Clapp is afraid that if the theatres in town start to hold classes or showcase amateur work that it will compete with, rather than enhance the intense wonder of the professional work that happens on stage. The opposite has been true for Old Town, and I have every confidence that it would be similar at a League theatre as well.
As for Lavey, she was integral in transforming Steppenwolf into the theatre of the "public square". The talkbacks at Steppenwolf are some of the absolute best I've ever been to. Should those talkbacks start and end only at times that Lavey decides? Is that how a public square works?
Twitter in the theatre is one minor way to participate in the art, live as it happens, but, if well-executed with rules to maximize everyone's ability to enjoy the show, tweeting or not, it can be one of the few that are unobtrusive and respectful of the artists and audience. It's the non-stop talkback of sorts that has your audience engaging with you, transforming from Customers that observe into Patrons that engage, with little effort on your part.
I believe very strongly in ensuring that we do a better job of raising up the work of professional artists so that they can be paid for the creativity, inspiration, and entertainment that they bring us at the same time that we define the amateur and professional spaces as separate with separate resources without denigrating the amateur artist. But participation is key in building loyalty to our art forms and to our organizations, and to actively discourage it in any form is, in my view, a big mistake.
I don't know specifically where this entrenchment comes from, but it is clear that the arts as a whole have resisted letting amateurs into our spaces, that we view them as receptacles for our greatness instead of active partners in the artistic process. That has to change. At the very least, social media is giving voice to those amateurs and if we cannot find a way to welcome them, embrace them, and convert them into great lovers of professional work through a personal connection to the art they yearn to capture a piece of for themselves, we will have lost our opportunity to capture tomorrow's audiences.
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