October 8, 2014, by
4 comments

#FactoryTheatreOpenings

 

Photo by Maggie Michael Wheeler Medium Rez Headshot 10469677_10100295725626498_3047848086125964899_n (1) SpiderWebShow

Left to Right: Aislinn Rose, Praxis Artistic Producer and Bunker Producer; Michael Wheeler, Praxis Artistic Director; Carly Chamberlain  & Tanya Rintoul, NTS Directing Students.

This week we have been studying Social Design for directors at The National Theatre School. Social media as a tool for discussion eventually (immediately) brought us to the ongoing controversy surrounding when critics are invited to Opening Night at Factory Theatre. We asked Aislinn to have a google chat with us about it as she is the producer of the first show in the Factory Theatre season: The Art of Building a Bunker.

Michael Wheeler

Ok so i got my invite to

The Art of Building a Bunker Opening today

Aislinn Rose

You’re welcome.

Michael Wheeler

Thanks!

How did you pick the guest list?

Aislinn Rose

Well, it was a collective effort, given that this production is a partnership between Factory and Quiptake.

Essentially, we each created a list and then mashed them together. (Lots of duplicates of course.)

On our list, I specifically wanted to invite people who had spoken publicly about the SummerWorks productions, even if it was “I still don’t know how I feel about this show”.

Michael Wheeler

Carly, Tanya and I  have been talking about Social Design all week.

The controversy over who got to come (or more accurately is invited) to opening ended up being part of what we talked about

Due to it starting on social media

Aislinn Rose

I hadn’t noticed.

Michael Wheeler

lolz

Carly Chamberlain

heeehee

Tanya Rintoul

group laugh

Aislinn Rose

At least some people are laughing about it. Phew.

Tanya Rintoul

i was curious about the thought process you had before entering into that HUGE Twitter discussion. Did you imagine it turning into such a big discussion, or were you just simply responding how you felt in the moment?

Aislinn Rose

Ah, yes, to respond or not to respond. (I actually had to walk away from my desk today rather than comment on something.)

I saw what I thought was an unfair comment about something (and a comment I found rather flippant, about a decision that wasn’t made flippantly) and so I decided to respond. I certainly didn’t think it would become my next five days.

Carly Chamberlain

That actually leads into what we’ve been curious about, which is why/how/when the original decision was made.

Aislinn Rose

There was a great meeting of representatives of all the companies who are part of the Factory season (except Ronnie, who’s on tour). It was an opportunity for all of us to get together, introduce ourselves, hear a little about what they had in mind for the next several months, and also pick our brains. Essentially we were in a room to say “we are the Factory season”. I thought it was a great idea.

At that meeting, the idea of a “new” kind of opening night was introduced. Nina said she was interested in changing what opening were about and who they were for.

It came down to wanting opening nights to be a great fucking night for the artists, and (as I put it) an opportunity for Adam, in the case of Bunker, to stand in front of an audience of peers, of fellow artists, of friends, family, people he admires, etc. to say “this is my show, I wanted to share it with you first”. It wasn’t going to be about impressing the critics you know are all sitting there with press kits on their laps.

And, you know, we’ve ALL heard critics complain that openings aren’t great opportunities to feel the real show anyway, because of the audience being stacked with friends.

Michael Wheeler

i prefer press kits to be a USB now.

Aislinn Rose

(You know I do too Mike. Or a link even.)

We didn’t think it would be a big deal.

Carly Chamberlain

Sorry…but…is that really what the artists felt like those nights were? My impression from my own experience has always been that openings were a big industry love fest night

Aislinn Rose

Sure, there’s the love fest… but there’s always also been the stress of who’s out there.

There’s a reason many actors don’t want to be told when press are in the audience.

Michael Wheeler

Here’s where I struggle with this and it has already been discussed a bit – separating critics from community

I mean i get it – the first rule of praxistheatre.com was no reviews

Aislinn Rose

and it is a good rule Mike

Michael Wheeler

so i understand how a critical voice changes a dynamic

But lets take Nestruck for example

He was a critic at McGill when i was an undergrad

He was a crtic at Fringe in my 20s

Now he’s a critic in our professional theatre

I can’t really imagine him as not part of the community,

(even when he torches one of our shows)

Aislinn Rose

He IS a part of the community. But I see the community a venn diagram.

So while he a part of the community, he is also apart from the community, and necessarily so.

Tanya Rintoul

Right, but why make it about the exclusion of critics rather than making a separate community celebration if that is the goal?

Aislinn Rose

I thought that’s what we did… but we didn’t call it community night.

We called it our opening.

And then Media Night was created, to coincide with subscriber night, to give critics the opportunity to see the work with a regular ticket-buying audience.

And part of the reason it was scheduled for a Tuesday was that it was thought Tuesday would be a great night to be able to get the press there together (because Tuesday isn’t such a busy night).

I also wouldn’t use the term “exclusion” of the critics.

Tanya Rintoul

It is really great to hear (read) this with such clarity, the press release and other media surrounding this topic have not come across so reasonably.

Aislinn Rose

Hurray for clarity! (And thanks.)

Tanya Rintoul

I argue with the exclusion part though. Not inviting someone to any event is excluding them from the event

Aislinn Rose

Well, some parties are family reunions, and some parties aren’t.

There was the notion of wanting to slightly delay the entry of the “official” critical voices into the conversations happening around the show.

Michael Wheeler

this is a bad metphor

its an ecology not a family

we dont have to like eachother but we all have roles to fill

Carly Chamberlain

what kind of conversation do you imagine happening by adding this delay?

Aislinn Rose

I want to point out the fact that Kelly himself has accused other critics/bloggers of becoming “too embedded” when they’ve disagreed with him on this issue.

 

So he, too, seems to understand that he’s part of the community… but that he can’t become too embedded.

Okay, back to the conversations…

We talked about how – sometimes – public conversations can become limited once the voice of “authority” enters the picture. And, as I’ve mentioned to people online, I don’t use the word “authority” because it’s accurate, but because that’s sometimes how it is perceived: that mainstream media (MSM) are the voice of authority.

This situation alone has shown me again that people are reluctant to join a public conversation if it goes against something the critics are talking about.

Carly Chamberlain

But in what forum would these conversations be taking place? (I’m on board with the idea of this “voice of authory”, but without providing a space for people to discuss, I’m skeptical about what critical discourse is going to happen on twitter…etc)

Michael Wheeler

Yes and Holger Syme has already pointed this out, but the conversation on social media about shows sucks. without the critics it’s a bunch of selfies and GREAT SHOW GUYS!

Aislinn Rose

So while we want the contribution of critics at the table, we were hoping their voices could be added to an already engaged discussion.

There are a number of platforms that we’re looking at (all of which would be of interest to people studying social design).

Tanya Rintoul

and who is starting the conversation?

Aislinn Rose

So we’re trying to find spaces online and off, where people can comment, questions, argue with the show. We’re going to try to move as much of the conversation to the interwebs as possible through twitter and a message board, but we also want to find ways to communicate with people who don’t want to use those platforms, or who want to engage anonymously.

Michael Wheeler

cooool

Carly Chamberlain

that’s great

Aislinn Rose

Yes… twitter is a challenge specifically because of the limited number of characters.

However, it also offers that awesome tool of the hashtag to create much longer conversations with many more characters.

Tanya Rintoul

i am worried about the anonymous option, but still interesting

Michael Wheeler

i showed these guys the open source feedback i did with Tara Beagan after she enjoyed and did not parts of Rifles.

Aislinn Rose

Nice!

So, as a super basic thing, we want to share our hashtags in as many places as possible, and teach people how to use them. It will help us track down the comments that are being made publicly, and help us draw out further responses, whether it’s through asking questions, probing for more detailed comments, etc.

Michael Wheeler

#cdncult?

Carly Chamberlain

what’s that?

Michael Wheeler

F

Aislinn Rose

Mike… wasn’t #cdncult part of the homework?

Michael Wheeler

YES!

Carly Chamberlain

what’s a hashtag?

Michael Wheeler

oh dear

Tanya Rintoul

we were just told to read Charlotte’s Web

Aislinn Rose

amazing

If I think back on the SummerWorks production, people were posting great feedback all over facebook and twitter, and I collected as many of those responses as possible. What I would want to do now, with this opportunity, is go back to those commenters and try to draw out more information.

Carly Chamberlain

but was anyone tweeting negative things? I think regardless of critics people are unlikely to post their negative opinions…unless they were truly incensed by something

and would you talk to those people?

Aislinn Rose

Of course!

But I also want there to be a physical space in the theatre itself where people can “post”… so we’re looking for an actual wall… leave the creators a question, tell them you think they’re racist, tell them what you didn’t understand, etc.

I would love to talk to the people who hate the show. And I did at the time.. or maybe not “hated” it, but were worried about it.

Aislinn Rose

In fact, I can think of someone in particular who would be a great person to curate a response from. (Though, if you ask Holger, he says theatre companies have no business curating responses.)

Michael Wheeler

Would you have gone about this differently in retrospect – or is the controversy just an essential part of making big changes?

Aislinn Rose

Well, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m feeling unsettled (and actually sent a facebook message to my favourite tv critic who came out against what Factory was doing because I wanted him to understand my position).

I don’t have ANY regrets about the decision to do this. And I don’t think any of us expected the response we received, and certainly none of us expected the kind of inflammatory language that has been used by some of the media.

However. I think, in retrospect, we might have communicated it differently to the press. But I want to be clear: it’s not about asking permission. Permission isn’t needed. But it would be about contacting them to say, “this is what we’re doing and why. We’re trying it with this show, and if it helps us build greater conversations than we’ve seen in the past, we’ll consider trying it with the rest of the shows”.

I’ll say this: I’m a little broken-hearted that Adam isn’t getting the opening night I imagined for him. But it doesn’t matter… he’ll kill it.

Michael Wheeler

Yes he will. As I already tweeted “ADLaz Born Ready”

Thanks for sharing with us

We’re going to go put this into WordPress now

Aislinn Rose

No worries, thanks for the great questions.

 

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4 comments:

  1. Michael Healey says:

    This is a great discussion on a bewildering subject. A comment, and a couple of questions: first, I think Kelly N does a better job than most of realizing the contradictory nature of being of the community and separate from it. Do you think, given the surprisingly vehement response to Factory’s decision, that there’s a higher degree of sensitivity among theatrelovers these days? Because this doesn’t strike me as a legit controversy. If yes, then why? What is causing this — it can’t just be the internet’s fault. I have a theory that I’m going to flesh out some day when I have 10 quiet minutes.

    The other question is specifically for Aislinn: given Factory’s recent history, if you’d known this move would generate the kind of pushback that would force you to occasionally walk away from your desk, would you have made the move?

  2. Martin Morrow says:

    Your talk about ways to solicit feedback reminded me that Alberta Theatre Projects, during its (now, alas, defunct) playRites festival, used to supply feedback forms at each performance. Then the notes they collected were posted on cardboard pillars in the lobby of the theatre — one pillar for each of the four new plays premiering at the festival. The notes were anonymous and of course, even in the pre-internet days, there were trolls who just talked trash about the show. But there would also be quite a few thoughtful comments and, read as a whole, one got a pretty clear picture of how a show had gone down with audiences. I used to read them faithfully — after I’d written my reviews — to see to whether or not other people shared my impressions.

  3. Carrie Sager says:

    This is an interesting conversation, but what I find consistently bewildering is the constant referral to exclusion. Factory is not excluding anyone, they are simply deciding who to give complimentary tickets to and when. Every other business in the world has the right to decide how to run their business and with whom to do business. Even art is a business.

    I would like to respond to Aislinn’s comment “we might have communicated it differently to the press.” When the media come to us and say “We are thinking of not reviewing any shows at SummerWorks this year, is that okay with you?” or “We are cutting all our space for preview or feature stories in order to focus solely on Hollywood and celebrity gossip items, but if that doesn’t work we will cover you again,” then perhaps we can also include them in the decisions we are making about our work.

    I have been working with the theatre media in Toronto and Canada for over 20 years and their first, and often only, priority is to sell newspapers, etc. That is their business. But still, I have spent the last two decades trying to find ways for theatre artists and the media to play nice together. And, I 100% support this Factory decision.

    In response to Michael’s “surprisingly vehement response to Factory’s decision,” the vehemence has come 99% from media – legit or otherwise. Not theatrelovers.

    I really appreciate Martin’s comments below, and rest assured we will be providing all audience members who attend Factory shows a variety of ways to provide feedback, both publicly and anonymously, in order to facilitate the conversation this decision was intended to generate. A conversation between people who choose to go to the theatre because they want the kind of experiences in their life that only live theatre can offer.

    Members of the media who wish to attend BUNKER’s media night on October 21, or any following performance, are more than welcome.

  4. Celeste Sansregret says:

    Carrie is right. The theatre is a business, and like any business, has the absolute right to invite the media any old night it likes. Fair enough. Obliging the media to pay for a seat if they want to come early in the run: fair enough.

    As a producer though, if I think the show is ready, and it is good, I want to be reviewed as early on as possible, because good press helps me sell tickets. This is the part of the Factory’s decision that I don’t understand.

    It’s the business decision aspect of this that makes no sense to me.

    Aislinn, you have over 200 seats a night to sell, and you’re co-producing. I assume this means making money is of some importance to you.

    I get wanting to make those mainstream reviews count for less at the box office. I also get that younger people go to other sources for information.

    I’m just not sure audience comments on twitter and reviewproject.org are going to put bums in seats the way you need, to sell over 200 seats a night in a highly competitive, and over-crowded market.

    I’d be very interested to hear how this works out for you. Merde.