Monday, December 17, 2012

Opinion from Rude Mech Lana Lesley: Building Audience into the Process,

Opinion from Rude Mech Lana Lesley, published in


Building Audience Into the Process
by Lana Lesley

December 16, 2012 | BY Lana Lesley

Lana Lesley (no credit)Recently we’ve started to see many a grant proposal and many a conference paper, and heard many a panel struggling with “audience engagement.” It’s the convening topic for the 2012 National Performance Network Conference, and a research topic for APAP’s Leadership Development group. It’s the next “new answer” to the questions that have been flummoxing the regions for the last ten years—how to attract audience under the age of sixty, and how to grow patron populations. Smaller independent companies have best captured the “under-sixty” audience, and because of that, some of the larger regional theaters have been supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (or have led themselves) to seek out these companies, commission works from them, and perhaps partner with them in order to attract new audience. These efforts and questions are laudable and necessary to making performance in the twenty-first century. Rude Mechs’ success in engaging our community and attracting new audience is entrenched in our programming, our aesthetic, and our longstanding partnership with our audience in the creation of our work—work that has become increasingly interactive over the years.

Rude Mechs’ demographic is 52% under the age of forty-five, 38% of that group ranges between eighteen and thirty-five. We create original work that springs from and speaks to our community. We have kept and grown our audience base because precisely how we engage with our audience has been a paramount part of our aesthetic since our inception. We think it’s the ongoing evolution of this engagement that is actually the important part. If trying out new ideas to reach a new demographic isn’t intrinsic to your artistic interests, and/or your institution’s programming, then it probably isn’t really going to “reach” anyone at all.

It has never been part of our mission to explore a singular form, or a particular set of performance ideas, or any through-line to our content. Our plays are wildly different from each other in terms of content, style, and form. Culturally, we have always seemed to be most attracted to the thing we’ve never done before. What our plays have in common is the collective aesthetic that resulted from our individual tastes and interests colliding play after play, year after year. And an ongoing and large part of that aesthetic is our deep concern for our relationship with the audience, and our audience’s relationship to the work.

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