The Art of Elitism
I recently went to see a local show with my father – a man who has always been very supportive of my theatre pursuits but knows very little about the technical or “behind the scenes” aspects of what he’s watching. He just likes to see a good show. All the way to the theatre and then all the way home, I ranted about the direction, the lighting, the actors, what other companies had done with the space in previous seasons; basically breaking down all the walls of theatre magic that had long ago been destroyed for me. When I asked my father what he thought of the show he said “I liked it.”
That was it.
Oh, and he remembered one of the actors from a show I’d taken him to see a few months earlier.
His opinion wasn’t changed by my critique nor did I grow defensive when he refused to give me a more in depth analysis of his opinion. He liked it. That was it. He wasn’t paying attention to the actor who flubbed a line or two, or the prop that was masterfully used in the final scene.
He was watching the story.
Compare that to another show I attended with a group of friends who have spent many years working in the theatre community. In the lobby and then all the way to the bar, we criticized and critiqued – and gushed over – every aspect of the show. When we talked about an actor in the show, we were talking about a friend of ours, not some unapproachable celebrity. When we talked about a choice in set design or direction, we were talking about someone we’d worked with before in a space we were familiar with.
When I approached the same subjects with my father, I was, instead, name-dropping actors that he’d only ever seen on stage, revealing intimate secrets of the backstage world of assembling a show; things that didn’t matter to him.
It made me consider why I was so eager to share intimate details of the theatre world with an “outsider” like my father.
I was showing off. I was doing it in an attempt to draw people in with teasing factoids; but to a man who doesn’t care if the lighting designer was just involved in some scandal that influenced their work, it was gibberish. He just wanted to watch the show. I wanted to bring him in to this magical world so badly that I was spilling secrets that didn’t make a difference towards the performance. And by doing that, I realized I was cutting him out of the show. I was ruining the wonder of live theatre.
I was contributing to this phenomenon in the community theatre world that keep “outsiders” from fully enjoying their experience. Every time a family member or co-worker tells me “I need to see more live theatre” I’m momentarily baffled that they don’t know about all the awesome little hidden gems in the city. And then I remember that their world doesn’t revolve around local theatre the way mine seems to. They just want to enjoy a show and by name dropping and spoiling trade secrets – even unintentionally – I’m alienating patrons who make up the majority of an audience.
Photo: Lobby of Moore Theatre, Seattle, Washington during the Moore 100 Open House Celebration, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the theater. Credit: Joel Mabel