Did you enjoy the show?

Amanda Pyfferoen

  • OnStage Minnesota Columnist
  • @AmandaPyfferoen

“Did you enjoy the show?” quite possibly one of the worst questions to ask someone who just saw your show. Of course you want your friends and family to enjoy the show you were in but by asking this question you are extracting a yes response. It essentially prevents honest opinion and constructive criticism.

I recently encountered this while attending a high school production of students I teach theatre to in the summer and co-direct their one act competition piece. A sophomore who was in the ensemble asked the question to which I responded “yes,” which a hint of hesitation. I quickly recovered by asking her if she was having fun and she began to tell me about her experience. Of course after our conversation I felt bad, not because I hesitated but because I neglected to tell her the truth. I avoided discussing the show with any other kids that came by to chat, instead deflecting to their time working on the production. Part of the reason we respond positively is because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. I understand that…but isn’t lying doing the same thing?

The theatre I work for recently opened our end of the season musical and I heard the same question echoing around our lobby during our reception and evoking the same trite response. Whether or not the patrons enjoyed the show they were asked a basic question and the possibility of actually talking about the show was denied. I’m sure some people openly discussed the play but from what I could hear no one asked for specifics. Yes, it’s community theatre but vague responses will not improve the quality of productions presented each season. 

This is seen far too often and I think there needs to be a shift. For example, when my brother and I are in shows we ask each other “What did you think?” This then leads into a discussion of the pros and cons, including technical elements, and very specific aspects about our performance. Of course, this is my brother and we have one of those inseparable bonds where we can brutally honest about our art and not get offended. I’ve been trying to asked friends and other extended family members this same question and it seems to evoke more than a “Yes, it was good,” but still isn’t to the quality of review I want from those whose opinions matter. 

We should be able to talk about our art and receive genuine comments about the production. If we start asking “What did you think?” instead of “Did you enjoy the show?” maybe our performances can improve? By asking a more open-ended question it will invite the patron to express what the experience meant to them. After all, theatre is meant to elicit emotions and thoughts and having the ability to discuss those in a welcoming environment can only heighten our theatre going experiences. 

Photo: Rollins.edu

Theatre in the Gopher State: The Guthrie Theater

Amanda Pyfferoen

  • OnStage Minnesota Columnist
  • @AmandaPyfferoen

As one of OnStage’s newest bloggers, and the only one currently representing the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I thought I would introduce you to the theatre scene in Minnesota. There have been some claims that the Twins Cites have the “second most theatre seats per capita” after New York; there is no hard evidence or data to back this claim. Whether you believe that or not, one thing is clear, the theatre scene in the Twin Cities is thriving. There are many wonderful theatres and I am planning to share some of my favorite experiences at these venues in hopes that it will entice you to attend one of their productions.

One of the most prominent theatres in Minnesota is the Guthrie. Tyrone Guthrie established the theatre in May of 1963 with the intent to create a core company of actors to perform classics on a rotating schedule. In 2006, the Guthrie began performing in their current home on the banks of the Mississippi River where they have three performance spaces: The Wuretle Thrust (1,100 seats), The McGuire Proscenium (700 seats), and the Dowling Studio (a black box that can seat up to 200).

I was personally blown away the first time I saw a Guthrie production, it was 2007 with a production of The Glass Menagerie. They began with a bare stage and narrator Tom (they had two Tom’s) began his opening monologue and all of sudden the entire set emerged from upstage and I actually gasped…maybe even teared up. I was chaperoning a high school junior class trip (I had graduated two years earlier so I knew many of the students) and there I was weeping over how they revealed their set. I credit that with the first moment I cried at the theatre – with the set and not because of the story.

The Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater

A few years later I finally saw my second production, The 39 Steps. My brother and I were both attending the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and our professors would often require us to see productions they were working on. My brother’s acting prof at the time happened to playing one of the clowns in this production and needed to write a paper about it. We got tickets at the last minute, were a little rushed, and didn’t know where to put our winter coats – but we laughed so hard we cried. At times it seemed like we were the only ones laughing however it was a blue-haired crowd and the show had a quick pace. It was another amazing Guthrie experience for me.

 During grad school I took my mother to her first Guthrie show Appomattox which is a historically inspired drama paralleling the end of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe a tad heavy for her first Guthrie experience, but my mother is a history buff and thoroughly enjoyed the production. I wanted to see it because I had a friend in the show (a few small roles but he was great). At the time we were focusing on gestures in one of my graduate acting classes so that was all I could focus one…almost to the point of missing what was being said. To this day I still remember the actor playing Lincoln and Johnson repeating this habitual gesture where he would stick his hands in his pockets and jingle coins around which left me wondering if he consciously chose to make that connection or if it was something the actor did subconsciously…I’ll probably never know.

The most recent Guthrie production I attended was this past February of new artistic director Joseph Haj’s debut with Pericles. It was visually stunning, especially the billowing fabric used to represent the ocean and the video projection. The live, underscoring music was a wonderful addition and helped to set the mood of each act. Was it my favorite Guthrie production? No, but it was still amazing and I am looking forward to see what Haj has in store of his Guthrie tenure.

The Guthrie continues to create stunning productions and remains a top theatre in the Midwest. One of these years I’m going to get to their annual A Christmas Carol production. For more information or tickets visit http://www.guthrietheater.org/.