Rhiannon Collett begins training in artistic producing with Tom Arthur Davis and Jivesh Parasram at Pandemic Theatre in Toronto
(December 17, 2018) It seems like recently everyone is talking about audience engagement. I’ll be honest: as a playwright, I’m kind of a theatre ghost. I like nothing more to slip into the back of the house, watch the show, and leave. No one knows who I am? Awesome. Engaging with the audience as a whole has always seemed like a lot. Talkbacks make me nervous. Answering questions is hard, and scary and sometimes it feels like a group dramaturgical session (“I just don’t really get what you were trying to do there…”). There are poor interpretations, miscommunications and hurt feelings (mine). I admit that “theatre ghosting” may not be the most responsible move, but fear ye not—the end of 2018 has proved overwhelmingly full of opportunities for me to grow as an artist directly engaged with their audience.
I’ve been living in Montreal for the past 5 weeks, working on the world-premiere of my show, The Kissing Game with TYA company Youtheatre. For over a month I’ve been primarily an actor (with the occasional bout of frenzied playwriting revisions.) I’ve been performing an openly queer narrative two times a day in high schools across the Greater Montreal Area. Every day we do a talkback. Sometimes I get a standing ovation. Sometimes I get heckled. Sometimes they want to know if I’m gay “in real life.” Sometimes they have nothing to say. Sometimes, like yesterday, they decide they’re going to try their very hardest to distract me for the entire 45 minute run and I had a near-perfect show quand-même. Point being—there has been lots of audience engagement, and it has turned out to be the most difficult and worthwhile part of this tour. The kids are alright, and very gay.
One thing that I’ve come to appreciate through my time on school tour is that engaging with an audience is a skill. When I think about standout audience engagement, I think about Tom and Jiv’s work at Pandemic. This is because I was the audience they engaged many, many times, even when I didn’t like their work. Even when I had something to say that was challenging. I had a strong objection to the show? Pandemic hired me to write my thoughts for their ‘zine. I had difficulty with some audience participation? Tom and I discussed it, and my thoughts were incorporated into the final production. My perspective as an audience member (and as an emerging artist) has always been heard at Pandemic, and it has profoundly changed the way that I experience their work (and the way that I think about how my own work could exist.)
On Sunday I head back to Toronto and start my mentorship in artistic producing with Pandemic—I’ll be assisting on the world premiere of Johnnie Walker’s play Shove It Down My Throat at Buddies in Bad Times. A large part of my mentorship with Tom and Jiv will be about how to engage with audiences outside the production. Shove combines lots of topics that I am extremely interested in—it’s a true-crime gonzo docu-play that explores queerness and complicity.
The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2019.
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