How Much Is Enough? How Much Is Too Much?

I am glad to complete a full run of Drawn Dead, and relieved to move on until the next run.

The show has needs for improvement, in terms of both raw quality and things I’d like to see, which I can address at some point down the road.

But more than anything I need a break from dealing with the show. In one week I’m taking a vacation through the Pacific Northwest that will land me in Vancouver BC Canada for a week.

The final weeks brought along with the stresses of getting the show ready a fundamental existential crisis. Why do we make performance art? What do we get out of it, both as performers and patrons? More importantly, what is the marginal value? What does the community lose if it is never made?

Because performance art is never just about yourself. If it was, we could (and probably should) just make art behind the privacy of closed doors and not bother anyone else. Ultimately, we make art to reach and communicate with our communities. I make the work I make to share something of value with the community. This requires two things:

– I can produce engaging and original work to share with the community.
– I have an interested community with which to share it.

I put on the best show I could for a very modest set of audiences consisting largely of friends and colleagues. As much value as the show had, it took an incredible amount of work to produce a show that, while I felt good about it, did not meet my personal expectations of the kind of work I want to share with people. But even if the show lived up to everyone’s expectations, I could have promoted the show as much as possible and still would have played to a lot of empty seats. This is not an indictment of the community, but a reflection in their interest in my material and the audience for that work.

Some of that work is a product of changes my director and I decided to make. I could have made an hour long storytelling show, but we elected to try and make something more, something that requires far, far more work and investment than we put in

And it leads me to question if putting another fuck-ton of work into this show is worth the trouble. All the money, time and logistics I would have to invest in additional rehearsal… all the work to make incremental quality improvements to the show… is it worth the trouble?

Drawn Dead is currently a full length show. It’s good. It could be better. Marketing the show is difficult as I am not a brand name and can not draw a substantial audience for my work sight unseen. I could put in work to make the show better. Some of the work is not back-breaking (audio editing and rewrites) but some of the more involved work (rehearsal and complicated physical theatre blocking) requires a lot of effort and investment.

How much work is worth the trouble? What is the audience for the piece? Will dozens of people pay $8-12 a head to see the show? Will they remember what they saw? Will they tell their friends and colleagues about the show? Will it matter in a year, let alone five or ten or more, to anyone that I did this show?

Honestly, I don’t have the blind undying love for my show to press on despite no real payoff. If I’m doing this for sparse audiences, or to polish a relative turd, then I’m wasting my time, money and effort. There is too much in my life I want to do to kill myself making a show marginally better, or to improve the show with no substantial return.

Unfortunately, I am not made of money and I’m getting older. I can’t run myself into the ground, blow $20-40 a rehearsal and shake it off to do it again the next day. Unlike local fringe theatre, a touring fringe show needs to draw crowds and make money to be worth the while. It needs to be memorable and impact your audience so they remember your work and come back next time. A return on your investment matters a LOT, a cultural return as well as a monetary and attendance return.

I don’t have answers yet. One of the reasons I’m taking a break is to give myself the space to find answers.

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2 thoughts on “How Much Is Enough? How Much Is Too Much?

  1. Lydia says:

    Hi Steven! Lydia here. I had tickets but didn’t get to use them because of the stooooopid sicky sick. I have been tangling with similar questions. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I do what I do in the particular way I do it. Why performance instead of written or spoken word? How do I navigate audience (or lack of audience)? If I get a chance, I’m going to make some performances that embody that interaction. Even then, if this can’t be as interesting to the audience as it is to the performer (& I’ve come to understand that those who watch in passive audience role don’t satisfy performer Bitchmuse), then I’m wasting calories. I’m wasting minutes, hours, days.

  2. joyce says:

    sometimes I found excitement (actually a lot of excitement…) by just exploring in my process and share my processes with friends, but sometimes I do desire audience. I think the trick is to find the balance between the two. I love your show, tho. I feel learning from it and feeling encouraged just by seeing my peer doing such a great job.

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