Our audiences are as much a part of our curricular task as
are students. Since the university’s aim is the dissemination of
knowledge and the challenging of persons to become complete, the command of
focused attention of any group of people is a mandate for instruction in these
matters. As a student you pay dearly
for this experience (even if getting to class is mightily difficult sometimes). But an audience pays as well—with time,
travel, admission, even baby-sitting—by which it commits itself to our
keeping. It is our obligation to offer
excellence, thoughtfulness and significance, concerns which go beyond the
numbing and desensitizing excesses of most television and popular
entertainment. In brief, we need to
approach our selection, preparation and production tasks with at least as much
conscience and seriousness as we would apply to the preparation of a class we
all agree to instruct. Our task is to
spread knowledge about the way the world works and how it ought to work, how
human beings can become complete, and less significantly, how the arts can function
in our lives.
These curricular responsibilities
are not always easy to fulfill. They
sound so serious! But they can be and
are addressed through comedy as well as more serious plays. They often must be approached, as is all
education, through dangerous encounters.
In this case “dangerous” suggests
two meanings. The first has to do with
confronting members of the audience with themes, values, and characters which
challenge, and even threaten easy assumptions based on long-held and, perhaps, not recently examined opinions. It is a major role of theatrical art to
present disquieting images, foreign concepts, unsettling alternatives to its
audiences, and not to settle for only amusement or the pleasant passage of time
together. And this is especially true
of theatre in the educational setting. A successful encounter for the caring
theatre artist, of course, is a matter of appropriate degree and
The second meaning for “dangerous”
in this setting has to do with the possible backlash of some members of the
audience toward the artist’s intent.
Presentation of language, subject matter, disapproved character actions
or traits, opposed values expressed, social patterns violated (smoking,
drinking, etc.), all can lead to confrontation in the real world well outside
the fictive world of the play. Without
careful control, many of these encounters can become more evil in terms of the
demeaning of persons than the “evil” opposed.
And, remember, this caution applies to the artist’s treatment of the
accuser as well.
The lesson one learns about
attempting “dangerous encounters” is to know the values and tolerances of the
audience you serve, to measure carefully the validity and importance of your
choices, and to approach the challenge with love and nothing but examined concern.