Of all the things for Broadway to pilfer from the nonprofit theatre, why have they resorted to the dreaded "talkback"?
Patrick Healy, in yesterday's Times, documents its emergence over the past year on the Rialto--as sort of a "desperate to try anything" approach of producers looking for yet more angles to sell the theatrical "experience."
And it ain't just the classy shows:
This fall, commercial shows like “Chicago,” “Shrek the Musical” and “Burn the Floor” are joining “Oleanna” in holding talk-backs. Other productions that encourage audience participation include the musical “Rock of Ages,” which is holding an online contest for audience.Yes, quite a disparate array. Which means: whether or not there's something to actually, you know, talk about, we want you to stay anyway. Or as producer Jed Bernstein tells Healy: "when people connect to a show, they want to prolong that experience as much as they can."
Hm. When was the last time you were interested in prolonging your Broadway experience?
Then again, it takes so darned long to exit a Broadway house theses days that I often end up staying put in my seat for a good 10-15 minutes anyway, post-performance. So might as well entertain me, I guess.
But Healy puts his finger on the real motivation:
Talk-backs are especially, though not exclusively, common at plays that are struggling to sell tickets or are slow in building audiences."Come for the drama--stay for the bullshit!"
For last spring’s “Irena’s Vow,” not even the frequent talk-backs with the real-life daughter of the main character, Irena Gut Opdyke — who hid several Jews during World War II — yielded much in the way of ticket sales, though many audience members remarked about the pleasure of hearing from the daughter, the show’s publicist, Rick Miramontez, said.Another Broadway play with uneven ticket sales last spring, Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty,” also added a series of talk-backs that featured popular actors like Paul Rudd, who had worked with Mr. LaBute before.
Truth is, if folks don't like the show, they're not going to be that interested in "experiencing" a minute more than they have to.
And what better way to ruin whatever fun there is in a Neil LaBute play by trying to seriously analyze its "issues" or, worse, engage other celebrities to pile on the hero-worship.
Long story short: the talkbacks failed to salvage Pretty or other duds that pinned their hopes on them, like Irina's Vow.
The most unsettling example today, though, has to be the Oleanna campaign--called "Take a Side." What the hell does that mean, take a side? Yes, I'd like to support the misogynist college professor against the dumb broad he physically abuses...
This misguided effort to ennoble the play invites not show people, but "serious" legal & civic minds like ex-mayor David Dinkins(!), NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin, and "FOX News Channel legal analyst Lis Wiehl." Okay and some show people, like Montel Williams (who I guess is seen by some as a public servant) and Mark freakin' Kudisch! (I guess because he just played a sexual harasser in 9 to 5???)
But enough from me. Over to Oleanna's own star Bill Pullman: "The talkbacks don’t provide any conclusion or consensus. There is a side of me that dislikes that announcement at the start of each show: 'Take a side! Afterwards, a post-production discussion.' It’s really not about taking a side."
Indeed I also heard director Doug Hughes say explicitly that the goal of this production was to take a new look at the play outside of the original early-90's context of the Clarence Thomas and "political correctness" controversies.
But hey, artists, get with the program! You're off message: hyped up buzzword-context sells!