I recently faced a fact. As a director, as soon as the show opens, I hate theatre.
I understand why this is so. Whereas, during the rehearsal process the work is dynamic and ever-changing, opening night means my part in the show's growth is effectively over. I have no power to continue to shape it, no mandate to help it improve. It exists outside of me, beyond my control and I mourn that loss. My husband calls it my post-partum depression.
I also understand that saying I hate theatre is at best only part of the truth. That "hate" comes out of an enormous, obsessive love. If I didn't want the art to be great and the show to be successful, I could happily walk away on opening, content that the rehearsal process was satisfying.
Instead, my focus shifts and I am painfully aware of the difficult things -the hateful things - about this art.
1. It requires an audience. "Without you, all we have is a rehearsal." The audience doesn't merely feed the actors, artistically and literally. When we pour hearts and souls into creating theatre, we are arrogant and foolish enough to believe that the show can feed the audience. So if people don't come, it's like we have prepared a marvelous dinner party and no one shows. Babette's Feast gone to waste. I hate that.
2. It is ephemeral. The last show I directed was dedicated to a dear friend who died earlier this year. I invited her husband to see the show, eager that he should experience this tribute, longing to share our mutual pain at her passing. I contacted him and arranged for tickets. But after the show closed, I discovered that I neglected to confirm with him and he did not come. There is nothing to be done. He can't catch the video, or wait for the remount. The show is over. Forever. I hate that.
3. It needs support. I’m not talking about finances here, though that is certainly true. Theatre also needs people who view the work with loving eyes. I am an intensely critical person and I believe passionately in the importance of criticism in improving theatre. I welcome others to engage with the work I create. Of course, ideally, I want them to like it. But mostly I want them to care, to be willing to ask why and to help me make better choices in the future. Unfortunately, some audience members bring a spirit of negativity that can be destructive to the work itself and to my view of the work. I hate that.
I have often said that one of the few things I know about relationships is that the things you most hate about someone are the flip side of the things you most love. So we need to be careful about changing our spouses; we might lose something that was what attracted us to them in the first place.
Apparently, the same can be said of my relationship with theatre. Theatre needs an audience because it is a communal art. Every person in that room is sharing an experience and shaping that art. Because theatre is live, audience members are participants, not consumers. That’s why Daniel MacIvor compares it to church. I love that.
Theatre’s final repository is the hearts and minds of its audience. It’s hard not to have something tangible at the end of a show, to feel like there’s nothing left. But all the best things in life exist in our hearts and minds. To use another relationship metaphor, it reminds me of whining to a friend when I was planning my wedding. All this effort, all this time, all this money, going into a wedding and when it’s over you have nothing to show for it. And she said, “just a marriage”. I love that.
It really is irritating that theatre – and the arts in general – need positive energy. It seems that we spend a lot of time telling ourselves, and anyone else who will listen, that the arts matter. Next week, there will be another Wrecking Ball event in Vancouver to try to convince politicians. That’s hard. But when people do care, when those who understand why the arts matter get together, it is incredibly exciting. And when their collective positive energy infects others and reverses the negativity, it’s revolutionary. I love that.
Embrace the ambivalence.