OK. Its time to disrupt. Its time to question.

Richard Watts in his recent article on the Australian Performing Arts hub, posits that performances should disrupt audience’s comfortable schedules and be more playful if the art form is to survive, quoting renowned Canadian director Robert Lepage. Watts quotes Lepage some more… Audiences don’t want the actors to masticate the story for them, they want to taste it? Whoa!

Steady on old chaps!

Apart from the unsavoury (pardon the pun) metaphor above surrounding mastication, I have to take issue with the suggestion that theatre and plays specifically, should disturb and disrupt. Lepage goes on… Theatre’s got to be, if it wants to survive, it has to be an event. And an event means that it’s not necessarily taking place when you want it to take place; an event is something that shakes your schedule, shakes your habits, and that’s the only way theatre can survive – if it’s eventful.

Let’s consider the logic in this statement for a moment. Theatre has to be an event. What is an event? It’s generally something that happens at a time and a place. It is generally something that people attend. It is generally something that people want to attend. It is generally attended if people know about it. If it takes place and you don’t know about it, you generally miss the event.

How can theatre survive if no one knows about it? If something is taking place and you can’t attend because you need to change your schedule and/or your habits then that something had better be pretty bloody good. Therefore, instead, the argument must be that theatre must be eventful not necessarily just an event. But before we can reach the eventful stage, it must be an event that can gather a following. You can’t do that if you are constantly disrupting peoples schedules and habits.

Theatre must entertain. It must do this through eventful experiences that enable people to enjoy themselves but be sufficiently engaged so as to feel enriched/educated for the experience. Whether that is to have feel good endorphins coursing through your veins after a great belly laugh from watching a superb farce, or questioning morality after a harrowing drama, the entertaining event must provide the experience.

I do agree with Lepage that people want to be challenged but not necessarily to offset the mundanities of life. It is a pretty long bow to draw, and one that is quite pompous to suggest, that everyone’s lives are mundane unless they come to the theatre. Many people live fulfilling lives that I would suggest are perhaps just very busy. Theatre should be the escape pod that the rebels can flee in when they feel the Empire closing in and not a place to go to because they want to feel intelligent. Talk about intellectual arrogance.

This is theatre’s problem. We are not for the people. Individuals like Lepage do not exist for the people. It would appear that they believe that the people should be educated by them. The Elite. The ones that know.

Theatre should be for all. Just like television and the Internet – theatre’s actual competitors. If elites like Lepage and Richard Watts started to believe this then perhaps we would get more real ‘bums on seats’ and theatre’s survival would be assured.

I hope that wasn’t too disruptive…



Shane Mallory

Shane is a performer, emcee, host, communicator, creative, mentor and innovative theatre director. He lives in Ipswich, Queensland with his wife Natalie, who are almost 'empty nesters' providing a home for their two daughters' dog and two cats.


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