I have heard that life is essentially about emotion. We do things and want things because we think we will feel happier in the doing or acquiring of those things. We jump off of cliffs because of the rush. We eat ice cream because it makes us feel comforted. We eat kale salad because it makes us feel, well, righteous for eating the kale salad. We work out because we either get a rush from it (I actually enjoy being physical active though you wouldn’t know it to look at me) or we think it will feel good to be more fit or to look “better”, whatever that means. Think about it. It’s all about emotion.
Right now, my city is holding its annual Fringe Festival – a time when theatre artists get to experiment with their craft and audiences get to enjoy their offerings in a fun-filled and low-risk environment (tickets for fringe shows are quite affordable so you’re willing to take a chance on something out of the ordinary) .
Now, I’ll try to make my point here without giving anything away about the show in case it comes to your town as fringe performers often travel from city to city. Anyway, I went to this one-man show that involved no speaking. There were sounds – grunts and “ohs” and such – but no actual words. And I was totally okay with that aspect of it.
But there was something that confused me about the whole thing. While the performer conveyed emotion, I as an audience member could not tell where it was originating from. I knew he was angry, but I didn’t know why. I knew he was excited but I didn’t know why. At least much of the time. So there may have been a narrative but it was essentially lost on me and I was left somewhat frustrated. And to be honest, the character was actually a little creepy, which is I’m sure not what the creator intended.
As artists, yes, we want to explore, to express, but we also have an audience to consider. I’ve thought about this in comparison to sports where the goal is simply to win. Sure, a basketball game may be exciting. But a player is not going to intentionally bounce the ball off of the rim for the sake of drama. They want it to go in and if an onslaught happens right at the beginning of the game and seals the deal early on, they’re okay with that. They aren’t striving for a dramatic ending or a photo finish. In the arts, we should be considering the emotions of the viewer. That’s why we are sharing our craft, after all, isn’t it?
When you are putting your work together, take the opportunity to get out of yourself a bit from time to time and see things from the audience’s perspective. What are they experiencing? Do they understand what you’re trying to say or have you at least given them enough to go on that they can create their own story? It’s fine to have some inside jokes but make sure that those who aren’t in on the joke will still enjoy.
It’s not about creating something of mass popularity and it’s not about catering to something that is not true to you. It’s about creating something meaningful that tells the story you want to tell. It’s about asking yourself, “What do I want the audience to experience with this work? What do I want them to feel?” and doing the research, getting the feedback to find out if it’s actually what is coming across so people don’t leaving the experience wondering, what was that? Unless that’s exactly what you’re going for. 😉