As we reach the end of the year, it’s a time of reflection. For everyone.
A theatre friend passed along to me an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times last week, “My dream for theater: Toss the old business model in the dumpster fire of 2020” by theatre critic Charles McNulty. It’s a great think piece, looking both back and forward.
I just want to highlight and comment upon some of what he had to say…
“audiences are drawn to events… they need almost a guarantee that they’re going to experience something special, something that could not be obtained elsewhere.”
I believe this is true, especially in these days of ubiquitous streaming content. If–using a different entertainment venue (but with the same fiscal challenges ahead)–Wonder Woman 1984 appears simultaneously in your home as in theaters, why go to the theater? Granted, this may be an imperfect analogy: big cinematic visual spectacles will always have an audience for a giant screen. But I’m sure you get what I’m saying… we need to give audiences something they can’t get anywhere else.
FireMuse Shakespeare aims to take this one step further. We want to bring the experience of live theatre TO our audiences.
“Companies that don’t have a venue and therefore aren’t burdened by significant overhead may have an advantage in winning back reluctant theatergoers and in converting new ones.”
Continuing the earlier discourse, we plan to go to the audience, and those audiences may include some that wouldn’t normally go to the theater before… all because we don’t have a venue. And that’s a good thing.
“In the theater of the not-so-distant future, companies that place artistic imperatives over institutional obligations will be better situated to reach new audiences.”
While we’re always happy to welcome patrons, we won’t have annual subscribers for whom we need to program for, nor who need to risk their hard-earned cash on a year’s slate of works (only a few of which might spark the imagination and enthusiasm). Of course, it helps that all our shows are free, only requesting donations at the end of the individual show.
“productions that aren’t being shoe-horned into preexisting spaces or rushing to meet artificial deadlines or returning to the same old titles will make a stronger case to the distracted, the disinclined and the disaffected.”
FireMuse Shakespeare–to steal from an ad campaign from my childhood–will mount no production before its time. We won’t release to audience requests any show that isn’t ready to entertain that audience.
My intention is to begin with shows with which the audience isn’t necessarily familiar (that’s why 7-Player Cymbeline is first up). In other words, don’t bet on seeing Midsummer or Twelfth Night anytime soon under a FireMuse banner.
“in-person performance will have to tap into the inherent power of liveness…. Theater practitioners must continually ask what distinguishes their art form from technological media.”
By bringing the show to audiences in intimate settings, the audience will play a role in every show (whether they perceive this to be the case, or no). Our planning and rehearsal processes will focus on making these shows as interactive as possible, and we’ll do this with an audience-centric focus in direct address, blocking, and staging.
“The meeting of contemporary and classic aesthetics demands, in addition to cultivated technical prowess, a pioneering temperament.”
A pioneering temperament. We’re going to do this. It may be a huge failure, but if we’re going to go down, we’re going down in flames.
“In grappling with plays from earlier eras, a clash of values is inevitable. For work that may not pass muster with current political morality, we need to figure out how to balance critique with appreciation.”
FireMuse Shakespeare will base its approach on the words of someone wiser than I (and honestly, I don’t remember who said it): the approach of this company must change with the times. We will be very conscious of three time periods: Shakespeare’s (in which the play was written), the production’s (in which the show is set [a post-apocalyptic Pericles, let’s say]), and today (in which the audience experiences the play)… and today changes. Can a production of Othello ignore the audience’s evolving feelings and attitudes about race in a post-George Floyd America? I don’t think so. I’m not saying that the show needs to address concepts like “Black Lives Matter” but it cannot be ignorant of it, either. And The Taming of the Shrew? Personally, I think the best way to address the toxic masculinity of the play is to present it with an all-female cast, but I’m just brainstorming here… and getting off the subject.
I agree wholeheartedly with McNulty’s thesis that theatre needs to change to survive in a post-COVID world.
FireMuse Shakespeare will be that change.
Be a part of that change. Be a part of FireMuse Shakespeare.