[The first video is an off the cuff introduction to this post.]
[In the second video, I read the full text of the post.]
I’ve seen a lot of theatre in the last twenty-odd months and, for the most part, my reaction has always been the same. I would leave the theatre muttering to myself, “I’m not the target market. I’m not the target market.”
I’ve seen unquestionably poor productions receive a riotously positive response from an enthusiastic audience and I’ve seen well-executed but hopelessly banal and unoriginal productions become the toast of the town. Again and again, I would say to myself, “I’m not the target market. I’m not the target market,” because — at the time — I thought it was a diplomatic and ecumenical response to a frustrating experience. Officially, I love theatre but very little of what I saw was enjoyable to me.
Then, I saw Les Guerriers, which I enjoyed tremendously. On the one hand, I was relieved. OK, this whole loving theatre thing wasn’t something I made up. I really do love it! On the other hand, I was confused. Why did I enjoy this french language production when I could barely understand the words spoken. So, as I often do, I reflected. Then, it struck me.
Les Guerriers presents two ad men who are engaged in an extended intellectual debate about the nature of war and who also find the time to get intoxicated through a rich medley of means. Now, on any given night, this is more or less exactly what I do: engage in extended intellectual debates (on everything from war to identity politics to online marketing) while knocking back a pint or two. What I saw on stage, then, was essentially a well-executed and dramatically heightened reflection of my own existence. I enjoyed the play precisely because it held up a mirror which said to me when queried, “Yes, you, my beautiful unique snowflake, are the fairest of them all.”
So, despite my Nietzschian-last-man-at-the-end-of-history-pretensions, I realized after some reflection, I am not like everyone else and I’m exactly like everyone else. Yes, the mirror in which I prefer to gaze is not much like the mirror in which most other people prefer to gaze but, like everyone else, I prefer to gaze into a mirror that reflects me, oh glorious me. I realized also, when I was muttering to myself, “I’m not the target market; I’m not the target market,” I was also implying, “I should be the target market; I should be the target market.” There was, in fact, nothing ecumenical about my attitude at all.
Confronted with the cold reality that I was both like and not like the creamy middle, I really had only two choices: 1) I could become a vocal and public snob or 2) I could get off my high horse and accept that I’m like everyone else. I decided to get off my high horse and to start thinking about how I could best serve theatre and the arts in Ottawa, without necessarily only serving the stuff I love. Thanks to a lot of help from Evan Thornton, one outcome of this line of thinking is www.OttawaSneezers.com.
Remember, creating, producing, and supporting the arts is not a zero-sum equation. If I help people discover an arts event that they appreciate and enjoy — even if the event isn’t anything I’m personally excited by — no one is harmed and, arguably, a lot of good has been done for me and for others. Once people get in the habit of engaging with the arts, we can expect they will do it more often and we can expect that the audiences for arts events will grow. Moreover, if I can help foster a community or a city where a thousand flowers bloom, one of my own flowers could bloom and, eventually, end up in a highly sought after bouquet. Or, rejigging the allegory I used previously, a mosaic of a thousand mirrors should, I think, be a pretty impressive sight.
I should be clear: I’m not saying you, I, or, anyone else should attend or praise arts events we don’t like. I am, for example, absolutely committed to religious freedom but I don’t think baptists have any obligation to go to Catholic mass. I am saying, we should all encourage and support the effort to create and we should all do what we can to connect audiences to events they will enjoy even if we might not enjoy it ourselves.
Let’s face facts: yes, artists are narcissistic and inward-looking. Period. We kind of need to be to create the art we create. We don’t, however, need to be snobs. My art and audience may not look like your art and audience but we both share the common goal of creating art and finding an audience for it. There’s no need for you to attack my art or for you to be a part of my audience. We should, however, create an community where people can feel good about attending whatever arts event they want to attend because, after they attend my event without confronting ridicule for doing so, they will be much more likely to take a chance on yours.