The feeling that there are shows out there that cater to me and are mine is something I look for actively. Even though the show itself doesn't "belong" to me, I feel a sense of ownership having experienced said show after walking out, a resonant feeling I feel echoing through the chambers of my heart and down my spine. Someone took the time to go shopping and find the perfect gift for me, and opening it up is a treat.
To say the least, I am disappointed when a show doesn't speak to me or resonate with me in anyway. And there have been a few times through the venue-by-venue experience that I've said to myself, "This show wasn't made for me."
Last night I was at the Woman's Club of Minneapolis (sorry, New Century, I'll write about you later) and saw: ...Kill all the Lawyers, The Final Act, Paper Training the Playground Cataholics, and To My Son, Born Five Years Ago From Today. Three of these I walked out feeling that resonant feeling--they connected with me. But Paper Training did not.
Cataholics is made up of five animal-centric vignettes, sort of like Fringe Orphans: Cat Edition. The danger of doing vignettes is sometimes only one or two hit with audience members, and they'll turn around and judge the rest of the segments by how much they disliked one. I went and checked out some of the reviews before I sat down to write this (not a good sign when you have a mix of 1-2 stars and 4-5 stars). However, some of the criticisms I saw on their Fringe Festival page I actively disagree with--the actors showed quite a bit of range from scene-to-scene, and therefore were doing their jobs as performers and acting.
But while the show was hitting with other people in the audience, it just wasn't hitting with me.
A cat lives in my house--I have tenants and they have an adorable fluffy monster that occasionally forgets that the litter box is on the first floor. I'm a cat, she's a cat, so naturally we took a long time to acclimate to each other. And though we have our good moments, I am not predisposed to find everything she does THE GREATEST THING EVER.* I have a certain amount of cynicism attached to owning a pet, so perhaps the show was doomed from my point-of-view before the lights even came up.
I can imagine a show like ...Kill all the Lawyers not hitting at all with an audience member who came early to the Woman's Club to see Cataholics and wanted to see what the other slots had to offer. I start law school on August 22nd, and the four stories of lawyers behaving badly served me as a cautionary tale of the personalities I may meet along the way. I was engaged, interested, and invested in the outcome of each story in a way that our theoretical Cataholic attendee might not be.
The most extreme instance I experienced of being totally outside of what the creator was trying to convey happened on my first night of the Fringe at Intermedia when I saw the show Hitler, Satan, and Me: A Love Story. This is a show about evil and its pernicious effect on the life of one woman, tracking her relationship with a man that was formerly of the Hitler Youth and revealing the influence the devil has exerted on her life. But my concept of evil does not include the devil nor how he influences the world, and I slowly became diametrically opposed to what I was watching on stage. There was nothing I could take away. In contrast, Allison Broeren's show from 2012, Evil Dicks, offered a series of true-life stories highlighting evil people through history which gave the audience a sense of just how many forms evil can take. I think that ultimately this was the intent of Hitler, Satan, and Me, but I did not come away feeling that.
Thankfully, when Cataholics was over, I walked out feeling that the actors were stretching their muscles and enjoying themselves, so I felt good about what I had seen despite it not being a show I would attend typically. There was something I could take away even if I wasn't the target audience. I want that in every show, even if it's just a little hint of it. But the best shows either try to be universal and tell stories about people dealing with real situations (Fallsway) or they have layers built into them that regular attendees will enjoy right alongside a niche audience (Hoosiers: A Stage Adaptation).
Your audiences are smart people, but they won't always be your friends and family. They will be people with drastically different worldviews who might be there because the show was recommended to them or they're doing some crazy Fringe experiment and planting themselves in a venue. Be cognizant of them, and they will repay you with accolades.
Recommendations From the Woman's Club
While I am still digesting what I feel about Christopher Kehoe's To My Son, Born Five Years From Today (and perhaps I'll have more to say on it later), I highly recommend The Final Act. I've enjoyed and recommended previous Tedious Brief works, Bard Fiction and Tempests, I feel this Elizabethan Noir tale is their best work, and if you're a fan of Marlowe and the hard-boiled genre, this will hit you in your sweet spot.
*In some bit of cosmic serendipity, the cat came down to the basement where I'm writing this and arched her back in the way that says: "I'm about to do my business where I'm not supposed to." She knew I was writing smack about her.