I believe that art makes better humans, but that that can only happen when the line from art to audience is as taut, clean and consistent as possible.
The interplay between artmakers and audience members is central to what we do and vital to the success of the enterprise. That crackle across the wire, that static in the air at a live event, is good. It makes your ears hum, your hair stand on end–it’s what connects people in a room behind and in front of the fourth wall.
As Tom Stoppard famously wrote in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, about the making of theatre, “We have pledged our identities, secure in the conventions of our trade that someone would be watching.”
We need to find better ways of understanding, nurturing and reciprocating this, our most fundamental of relationships. Otherwise I worry we will get to Stoppard’s next line: “And then, gradually, no one was.”
New Beans is about refocusing on the importance of the audience in what we do, putting their value to us and our value to them center stage, and coming up with some new beans to start counting. It is about getting back to the core of what art means to a society, and trying to understand how and why that meaning has shifted.
This blog emerged out of a national research study that I am coordinating in my role as director of audience development at Theatre Bay Area, an arts service organization in San Francisco. That study, which looks to create a method for quantifying the intrinsic impact of a piece of art on an individual and to develop a new vocabulary for talking about that impact, is grand in its hopes, which are to do nothing less than revolutionize the way that we value, evaluate and talk about the work that we do. All this, one hopes, in an effort to make more art more relevant to more people—and to make that relevance and impact clearer, more honest, and more engaged in the complex society that is America today.