When theater companies talk about audience development, the idea of ownership is in there – spoken or tacit. We want people who are going to keep coming back, who feel like they’re a part of a community or an experience. A week or so ago we went to see Billy Jack at the Neo-Futurists. On a Thursday night, not exactly a prime theater-going timeframe, there were probably close to 80 people. At the end of the funny yet still painful hour or so (it’s a really, really bad script), one of the performers asked if there was anyone new in the audience, “probably not,” she asked, and was genuinely and happily surprised when four of us indicated yes we’re new here.
That’s ownership. In financial terms, it’s just butts-in-seats, but that’s the wrong attitude for theaters because we’re such a bad business model for entertainment. In community terms, ownership is a little more like friendship. We want you to like us, to be friends with us.
There’s all kinds of problems fraught with this, but I’m going to focus just on obligation for now. Because friendship isn’t free. There are ties that we make with each other, obligations. And people don’t necessarily want an obligation to an entity when entertainment is so much easier – and $10 to see a bad screenplay performed, that’s pretty cheap all things considered.
Anthony is going off chemo and starting a hospice program. Looking through the materials, his wife was struck by the language about “gifts,” that providing hospice care for your spouse is a “fabulous, nuturing gift,” was how she phrased it. But I didn’t get married to my wife to the end of our lives, I got married to the end of my life, and she’s supposed to be there the whole time – same as Steph and Anthony. My mother is still occasionally angry at my father for dying some 30 years ago. They’re supposed to be getting old together.
My brother works in hospice and palliative care, but it’s a job. It’s a noble job, but it doesn’t have the same connections and obligations. It doesn’t have ties and it doesn’t have ownership.
And as you lay dying and we are caring for you, your death is not a gift to us. We give to you. Which means we can’t tell you how much this particular giving sucks, because that’s not giving. It’s got to be freely given, or it kind of doesn’t count.