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It’s all about the audience, or, Why we do what we do

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This week Bethany Simons, writer/performer of two-time Green Room Award nominated play, The Weather and Your Health, ponders the role of an audience, and why it is we do what we do…

Bethany Simons - The Weather and Your Health

Bethany Simons - The Weather and Your Health

“We’ve been reading your script in drama class, and I have a question…” It took me a moment to process this comment made during a recent playwriting workshop. I knew that The Weather and Your Health was on the VCE Drama Playlist and I realise this means that drama students will see and/or study the play this year. But, still, to be faced with the knowledge that it is actually happening was quite something!

As part of the national tour of my play, The Weather and Your Health, the team and I stopped in the township of Beaufort Victoria where I conducted an Introduction to Playwriting workshop for budding and established writers, interested locals and VCE Drama students. Covering topics such as dramatic structure, subtext, objectives and given circumstances, we worked through what each member of the class might have to say as a playwright, and what it is they want their audience to feel or experience.

Why theatre? Why do we do it? And what moves our audience to leave the comfort of their own home, part with their hard earned cash and sit still in the dark for an hour or two? There has to be a reason. Whether they are looking to be challenged, stimulated or plain old entertained – we, as theatre makers, must consider what it is we have to say, to whom and why.

In my opinion, the audience is crucial. As writers, we have to consider our audience when creating a new work. Not necessarily in a marketing sense, but more in regards to content and structure and the journey we would like to take them on.

"Engaging with my audience after each performance has become an exciting and rewarding element of what I do.It’s not the praise. It’s the interaction and dialogue that I’m interested in"

I asked my students in the workshop to write answers to a series of questions related to their audience: What is it they want to say? What does their work look like? What is it about? What do they want their audience to feel? When starting out, these questions are helpful to consider.

As performers, we may experience magical moments in the rehearsal room, amazing revelations when working alone or with others…but at the end of the day, we need an audience to perform to in order to bring our work to life and give meaning to our practice.

Engaging with my audience after each performance has become an exciting and rewarding element of what I do. It’s not the praise. It’s the interaction and dialogue that I’m interested in. That’s why we have supper together. And, it’s not about the cake and scones – though those things are very (very) good. It’s about creating an experience and an opportunity for the audience to engage more fully in what they have just seen. The Weather and Your Health is a unifying production. The audience journey together to another time and place, so people feel the need to come together and share their own stories with one another after seeing the show.

I’m as keen for my audience to engage with one another as I am for them to share their response with me.

Bethany Simons - The Weather and Your Health

Keen to engage... Bethany Simons and her audience share a supper

The thing I love about live theatre is that, although a show may be highly choreographed and performed the same way night after night, an audience keeps it fresh, because every audience is different. And each audience deserves your best. So, we can’t really afford to have an ‘off’ night.

After our performance in Beaufort, the team and I mingled with locals over a generous spread of homemade lamingtons, chicken sandwiches, sponge cake and fairy bread. It really was like a party at the back of the Beaufort Town Hall that night!

A group of elderly women took the opportunity to share with me their memories of food and classic recipes from the 1950’s. With twinkling eyes they reminisced about Ginger Fluffs, Cream Lilies, and Jelly Salads. I’ve always thought there was something magical about that time: the dresses, the etiquette, the food, the joy and naivety of it all. Seeing those ladies’ faces light up as they spoke about ‘the good old days’, reaffirmed this.

Whether they lived it or not, The Weather and Your Health takes the audience on a journey back in time. It’s more than nostalgia though. Time and again, I’ve seen this play uplift and bring people together. People of all ages and backgrounds can project their own story onto the characters they are watching. It really is a delight to hear people say, “that was my story”, or “I can relate because…”

As a performer, I hope to bring characters to life. As a writer, I hope to take my audience on a journey. As an artist, I hope to make a difference in some way. The time my team and I spend with our audience in the foyer after the show is like a second act to The Weather and Your Health. The show is for them, and the supper is for them.

Yes, it’s all about the audience.

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Bethany has written 42 articles on AussieTheatre
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