An Audience Member’s Love Letter to Companies Doing the Hard Thing
Photo Credit: Andrea Klohn
I find myself becoming more and more uninterested in the idea of “recommending” a show to large bodies of people. Why? Because so many shows that I love or that move me are shows that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the wider world. They aren't necessarily for everyone, but that doesn't make them any less deserving of production. Nonetheless they’re some of the best work I’ve seen.
Witch, Something Clean, Plainclothes, Keely & Du, Tilikum, Cambodian Rock Band, How to Catch Creation, I Call My Brothers, In the Canyon, Too Heavy For Your Pocket, La Ruta, Indecent, The Father and Dutch Masters just to name a few.
These are the kinds of shows that change people. They change minds. They change the very air within the theater itself. These are the kinds of shows I live for.
Keep your 80th rendition of Joseph, give me shows that demand discussion.
Whenever I find myself engaged in conversation with artists who choose these shows that push the envelope, that push buttons, that can make people uncomfortable, I’m reminded of all the reasons that theater means the world to me. These folks are telling stories that are hard. Stories that need telling that are so often unspoken. These are the things that help us through those bad times or the things that give us hope that there is something grand in store if we’re patient enough to wait for it.
Better yet, they’re stories that demand more from us than to sit back and relax.
Forget sit back and relax. I can’t relax even when I want to. I want theater that makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs. Shows that make me call my folks afterwards just to hear their voices. Performances that make me openly weep (which I rarely do) and run home to cuddle my dog whose eyes see the world much differently than mine.
Theaters do these shows not fully knowing how they’ll be taken. Sometimes doing the hard thing is a monetary risk for the company, and yet, they do it anyway because it needs to be done.
I’ve been told by more than one artistic director in my life that choosing that hard show has meant major pushback from subscribers or donors, but that they don’t regret the decision at all. Because, to them, the work still wholly represents what their company is about regardless of how their standard audience fare takes it. While companies can’t necessarily survive if those folks stop coming, the fact that the art surpasses the desire for appeasement is an inspirational one.
So little in our world matters more than money. More than awards. More than accolades of any kind.
But to the companies who actively choose these kinds of shows that demand attention, that strike out against the odds and give us a taste of the bitter truth, I’m ever grateful. Even in the days when these shows don’t equal the standing ovations you wished for or on the days when you get pushback that makes you question your choices—don’t.
The stories we tell aren’t always stories folks are ready to hear, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t folks who need to hear them. When you tell a story that could shake the world, there are bound to be some people who are shaken too. You never know the impact your story could have on your community or the individuals within it.
Perform your truth. Challenge us. Remind us why Chicago is the greatest theater city in the world.
I promise I will always be there to listen.