Art requires an audience. Engagement is needed to move from a promising concept to the actual artistic experience.
My belief is that art resides in that moment, or series of moments, experienced between the viewer and the concept. An audience is crucial if there is to be a thing labeled ART. At the end of the day what remains is that which is remembered by the audience, be it the one or be it the one million. This engagement is what breathes life into art and what also determines its lifespan.
Artists are creators; and, we are tools; and, we are co-dependent. We fashion and strive to manifest something daily; be it a new way we see the world, sharing a story that haunts, or lending a rhyme that resonates and refuses to leave the brain. We search for the elusive nuance that will change a thing well known. A slight shift in perspective has the power to open up a whole new world of understanding to something previously thought known. What was once believed to be extinct or irrelevant can be given new life when expressed with a fresh and authentic perspective.
As artists, we acknowledge that our best creations often seem to stream from another source that we channel. We are not creators but more of an ‘action’. When embraced, it has the ability to transform a moment into something else entirely for both the artist and the viewer. It is a dance of trust. I think it an odd duality of surrendering oneself to something other, not knowing the outcome, while maintaining an unwavering trust of one to survive the experience. I surrender to the unknown. I trust I will be present on the other side.
This, in itself, is a challenge that never seems to get easier, for me at least, despite experience. I believe that each of us strives until we have little left; each new project or adventure or manifestation is a compact between hard work and utter faith in the intangible. It exhausts, and it extracts. And yet, we continue. This seems to be the nature of the artist. The vast majority of us will never have the financial return that equals the individual investment, yet… we continue. Winning the lottery ticket of financial success might tease; but, it does not explain the obsessive need to create.
Creation is costly.
The whole process of creation comes at a cost. The experience is a toll road for both the artist and the audience. Commerce, societal structure, and perhaps most significantly time itself leaves very little room along the journey for anything other. Along the path the artist continues to learn and then pay in experience. To create a thing in this moment requires a lifetime of moments leading up to the creation. I was told once that Picasso had responded when asked why a very simple drawing cost so much money that it was because it took a lifetime to create. All his experiences, and training, and practice made that simple drawing possible.
The artist spends a lifetime of experiences, both physically and psychologically, to create what we do. Each and every time. So much is given away in the process of creating that often it is easy to contemplate giving up because it may seem there is nothing more to give. Giving up is something entirely different from surrender. And, yet… we continue.
Art requires a time investment and it demands a history. Collaborative art requires that multiplied by the number of artists involved. Theatre falls into this collaborative camp in spades.
Theatre, and music theatre, is the act of many artists coming together to create an agreed upon vision. There are the producers who see the vision on the horizon; and, there are the directors who translate the vision to something tangible. There are the actors who bring and breathe the tangible to life before our eyes. There are the set designers who build the world and the costume designers who weave continuity between the actors and the world; artists guiding and enhancing our understanding of characters, of time and, of place. There are the choreographers who bring fluid movement and the expressive body into the heartbeat of the show. There are also the lighting designers who set mood and make sure we ‘see’ and understand the show. So much is dependent upon light. Each and every moment is designed so that our sense of time is peripheral and relative and that the story is believed. Each part works together to ensure we are in the story.
The director and each of the designer’s work is the art of good storytelling, and it requires a wealth of personal experience and knowledge, from an in-depth understanding of color theory and art & design, to psychology and history; each component must then become a conduit into the shared human experience. There are also the musicians and sound technicians who pick us up and then transport us to another realm with each chord. Can anything tug at our souls with such force, be it gentle or forceful, as music, and then continue to carry us beyond what might be comfortable? The years of training and experience required to bring a stage to life is staggering. All of this is for you. Yes, we also do it because it is our passion to create and then to share, but ultimately your experience and engagement is the end goal. I told you we were co-dependent.
Still, there is more needed to create a show. There are also the box-office personal and the greeters and the office personal and the managers and the volunteers who each make all of this feasible and manageable and deliverable. They are the voices, the hands and, the faces to the daily public. Each is an ambassador of good will.
Deeper behind the curtain are the accountants and the licenses and the royalties and the rentals and the materials and all the ‘last minute’ emergencies that are required to create theatre. Theatre is expensive to produce. Each contribution given by each artist has a worth and each practical aspect of theatre has a cost.
“Theatre is easy. All you need is a venue and a script”. I heard this some time ago and I could not disagree more. Theatre, good theatre, is hard work. It requires finding the best people to do the best work and then the guts to take great risk. It is also expensive with just enough return (for the Indie-Theaters), hopefully, to cover the costs to get it open and maintain its run. We then close, we breath for a moment, and on to the next show we go. Small local theaters continually struggle to stay afloat, yet alone attempt to tackle the task of expanding their programming. Theatre needs more than applause to survive.
Having taught art for several years at the higher education level I was often baffled by the student who elected to take an art course for the ‘Easy A’, and then slightly bemused when they discovered that there is much more involved. I do not believe that art or art theory needs to be taught for art to be appreciated, but I wholeheartedly believe that art needs to be experienced to be alive and that the experience enriches all of us.