February 17, 2013
"Encanta" and indie theatre in the 21st century
Free copies of a full-length play for virtual strangers is not how things are usually done. For the most part, people usually have to pay to see a performance or buy a published script. But with Encanta, I've been much more free-handed about things that I ordinarily would be.
However, it does make you wonder: why would a playwright without a job at a pie factory hand out a script for free that is probably worth charging money for?
The first reason is pragmatic: plays are ultimately meant to be performed, not just read. Production, not publication, is where it's at for a play. The text of a play is, in my view, closer to sheet music than to a novel. Reading Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, while very likely meaningful and enjoyable, is nothing compared to hearing even a recording of it.
Secondly, a lot of theatre hasn't quite caught up to how to reach out via social media beyond promoting the next show. I'm not going to change that by myself, but I do want to do my part to engage 21st century audiences beyond asking people to follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page.
For me, the internet has been crucial for building an audience. It makes no sense for me to treat their participation as auxiliary to bringing my work to life. It also makes no sense for me to make my work less available to them just because they cannot be physically present at a performance.
Then there's the fact that I have never given my script to someone and had them less interested in a live performance. The vast majority of the time, when I gave out my script, the person reading it said, "I have to see this live."
So, to me, this means that I need a different process for engaging audiences with my work.
I came up with 3 layers of engagement that I believe would be a good way to guide how I get my work to its audience from now on.
The first layer is the "Hey, I'm writing this play. Interested?" layer. I call it "Creation" in the picture because that's what was legible in the circle.
This part of the process is not just about writing the piece. It's about sharing my vision for what the play will mean to the audience. For me, one of the first things I ask is, "Who will see themselves here?" and "What are they going to see about themselves?" It's the appetizer and a taste of what's to come.
A story about a sorceress and a pirate falling in love is nothing spectacular in and of itself. But when I say that every single character is LGBTQ and Latin@/Afro-Latin@, that means something to people. People, especially people excluded and marginalized in arts and entertainment, care about that because they want to see themselves in ways they normally don't get to see themselves. So, they're immediately hooked and want to know more about where I'm going with it. This usually means a complete draft. Or several, in the case of Encanta.
From here on out, things are a bit more experimental.
The second layer is the, "Let's see what we can do online" phase. I call it "Virtual Event" in the picture because, again, it's legible and fits in the circle. This is the main course.
The first thing that came to mind for this was a livestreamed performance where the audience hangs out in a chatroom or on a Twitter hashtag. No camera tricks. No movie magic. Just what actors can do just from the strength of their performance. This includes readings, staged readings, and workshop productions. Not to mention interviews with the writer, cast, and crew, and so on. I believe this could be the main form most performances would take because they would by far be the most accessible.
I have no idea how the logistics of this where tickets and what not are concerned, but it's one of the ideas I had.
Finally, there's what I call "Live Event" (once again, because it fits and its legible), which in my mind I think of as the "Icing on the Cake" layer.
Here is where the fully realized productions would happen. It's what we have for dessert. Just as every meal doesn't have dessert, every piece won't become a fully realized production. And that's fine. The point is to get the piece performed and in front of an audience.
The great thing about these layers is that they are very porous. None of them has to work in isolation from the others. For instance, it's entirely possible to combine a live event with a virtual event.