I love a good shock factor in theatre. I love when something really surprises and resonates with me in a production, it makes me admire the work of the director and actors even more; it shows that the cast and crew are not afraid to take risks.
Though I’m a fan of shock factors, I’m not a fan of all shock factors. In my opinion, a shock factor should only be used if it has a specific purpose in the story, script, or director’s vision. An audience can tell if a director is trying to shock them just to shock them. If a director decides to go over-the-top in a production, they must have specific reasons in doing so. The reason can’t just be “I want to be edgy,” it must specifically serve the plot, script, and vision to do the show any justice.
An example of a common shock factor that can either help or hurt a production is nudity. Many productions, especially contemporary productions, tend to use nudity more liberally than the theatre world did in the past. For some productions, nudity makes it more raw, vulnerable, or even funny. In these productions, it works because it is used for a purpose that furthers the story.
However, sometimes nudity is just used as somewhat of a placeholder. If a director puts nudity in a production to solely “push the envelope,” and that’s the only reason, an audience will pick up on it. They may walk out of the theater thinking/saying, “the show was good, but what was with that random naked guy in the middle?”. This kind of reaction should always be avoided. If a production has a way to make a shock factor, like nudity, further the plot and add to it as a whole, it should be used. If it’s just there to turn heads, perhaps think of a different way to further the production without creating confusion and disturbance.
Some theatre-goers don’t like shock factors even when a production calls for them. Honestly, there’s nothing you can do for them other than warn them about the show’s content. However, if a director believes in the shock factor and that it will add a new sense of depth to his production, they should use it. But using a shock factor just to use it can turn an entire audience off, whether they’re open or more conservative when it comes to their theatrical preferences. Do justice for the production and the audience; only use shock factors when they’re absolutely called for.