Who gets what out of post-show discussions? Are they for the audience? Do they benefit the artists? What does audience engagement really mean? What’s made you stay for a post-show discussion? And what’s caused you to pick an aisle seat and make a quick exit before it starts?
The worst kind of post-show discussion is an egotistical one. Are we agreed? One step down is a post-show Q&A where no one really knows what the point is and this happens more often than we’d like to admit.
Outcomes don’t have to be predefined and a lack of focus is usually a good thing but given a little more time and consideration, we could get a lot more out of post-show discussions than we currently do. I think the key lies in figuring out what the artists want to gain from it, what the audience might want to know and creating an environment in which those happily vague aims can be met.
To me, there are a few things that make successful post-show discussion.
The Tone – leave your egos backstage, please.
Tone is possibly the most important thing. This is established by the person who opens the discussion and crucially what they say. At this point the chairperson decides who to make the focus and egos must must must be left at the door. An arse-kissing, eye-roll inducing chair is beyond annoying, they’re off-putting. If you big up the panel too much, the audience might think twice about challenging them and from what I gather, artists gain a lot from being challenged (not mocked, not ridiculed, just challenged). Respect the audience as much as you respect the artists.
The most open discussions are the ones where the chair explicitly states that the panel are gathered to hear opinions from the audience as well as answer their questions. That way, they get to hear the audience’s experience of the show without pressure to respond. It’s ok to just listen.
The Atmosphere – facilitate a two-way discussion.
The atmosphere is what makes potential participants feel like they can step up to the mic. But if the discussion is taking place in the same space as the show, it requires a shift in atmosphere to establish this relaxed environment. The conventions of a theatre show place the focus on the artists and the audience takes a passive position. Once the curtain falls, the task is to shake this up and give equal importance to both, so there needs to be a change. This could be the seating arrangement, it could be serving drinks in the theatre space itself (licensing issues may be a problem here), or you could change the venue of the discussion. Maybe have it nearer, if not in, the bar (but consider sound).
Have a varied panel
Sweeping statement alert: I think most audience members who stay for a post-show discussion are usually more interested in the subject matter of the show or the opinions of the cast/crew than the process of making it. They’re interested perspective over methodology (I think). I don’t know if artists share this interest in the experience of a subject over the experience of the theatre show itself?
Either way, it’s a good idea to have someone on the panel who has a view point on the subject but is separate from the show. If your show’s about a banker, consider having a finance expert on the panel like Upstart Theatre did with The Maddening Rain post-show discussion at Salisbury Playhouse.
What makes a poor post-show discussion?
Talking too much and egos. Artists/chairs who go on and on to fill up the silence aren’t doing a great job at a post-show discussion. They’re excluding the audience and fellow panellists by not giving them a chance to talk. It’s the job of a chair to cut someone off when they’re talking too much (I learnt this the hard way).
Any other ideas?