If inviting general audiences into the artistic process now means potentially inviting them to share their feedback with the world does this change how we think about presenting works-in-development for public audiences?
Perhaps I have a skewed perception, but it strikes me that over the past couple decades (at least in the US) arts organizations have increasingly presented half- or nearly-baked works to the public and (in many cases) charged them money for the privilege of seeing this work. For a variety of reasons, we have invited patrons into the process and have sold them on the idea that (1) this will increase their knowledge and understanding of an artform or (2) their presence and feedback will be valuable to the creators.
It is perhaps worth questioning whether we are sincere when we say these things and under what conditions these statements are true.
A related phenomenon: sometimes we haven’t invited patrons into the process as much as thrust it upon them. Sometimes works ‘in development’ are not advertised as such; they are rather deceptively called ‘previews’ or ‘world premieres’. By this I mean (for example) preview periods which producers or artists use to make significant changes to a piece, or works that are essentially being developed in performance at one or more venues on their way to New York (though being sold to audiences as if they were finished).
Recently there has been a good deal of chatter and discussion about the impact of amateur critics or passionate patrons (and recently a professional critic or two) blogging or tweeting reviews or comments on works ‘in development’ or shows ‘in preview’. In general it seems these have been seen by artists and producers as breaches of trust. But given the growing power and influence of consumers, and given that we have welcomed them in and charged them money and promoted the importance of their presence and opinions, is it any wonder that they now want (or feel entitled or even encouraged) to blog about their experiences?
While some may wish that we could enter into ‘contracts’ with patrons and require them to respect the artistic process and hold their tongues, this strikes me as impractical, unenforceable, and potentially destructive to relationships with patrons. Here are some other options, posed as (quite sincere) questions:
- Do we need to do away with works-in process for the general public and simply present work that is finished and ready for review?
- If we do works-in-process, do we need to be much more honest and explicit with audiences about our reasons for doing them and what we consider their role to be (or not to be)? (We might start by figuring this out for ourselves.)
- Is it possible that if a work-in-process gets a dig by a patron or amateur critic that readers are astute enough to know that the piece is still being rehearsed and will wait to form their opinions on whether or not to attend?
- Is it possible that if a blogger writes a piece dismissing a work in its development he or she may return and write again about the evolution of the piece and that this story might be more interesting than simply hearing about the finished product?
- Is it possible that any conversation about a work (negative or positive) is better than no conversation at all and will likely make people more inclined to see the piece?
- Is it possible that among the opinions expressed by passionate patrons and amateur critics about works-in-process that we might actually find some valuable insights?
One final question regarding works-in-process that are disguised as ‘previews’ and ‘world premieres’: putting aside for the present moment the (perhaps quite legitimate) reasons why such things occur, we might ask ourselves whether a public performance that is being used to make major changes to an artistic work should be called something else.
Dress Rehearsal, perhaps?