So my mother is visiting us this weekend, and this will be her very first time in New York City, ever. Hooray. We were talking about what she’d like to do, and she said, “Oh you know, see the sites, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, etc.” and of course we said would you like to see a show? And she goes, “Hmm, not really.”
“Hmm. Not really.”
The universal question of artists is "What will my mother think?"
A little demographics: my mother is in her late 60’s, born in Canada, trained as a nurse and became a missionary in Southeast Asia, fervently religious, never owned a new car, raised 3 boys while writing books (about missionaries) and sweating it out in the American South for the past 35 years. Why doesn’t she want to see a show?
Of course she’s seen my shows, but that’s not the same thing. For her there is too much to overcome.
First of all she doesn’t like swearing, just like she didn’t like it when I was an actor and would die onstage. (I was convincing.) She doesn’t get in to singing and dancing a whole lot, and she doesn’t have a jaw-dropping fascination for spectacle, per se. But the answer is a little less obvious. I think she actually knows what she would be getting into. Being in the space means encountering things in (possibly) uncomfortable ways, and she (understandably) doesn’t want to be uncomfortable.
I think my mother is the type of person who is always aware of and on guard for a message. If anything, she would be an excellent theatre-goer because she is always prying behind the story for the real intent. She engages at the dianoia level. She believes characters represent things. And I like to think that images and dialogue stick with her in ways that the cynical have long forgotten.
Why are we missing this type of audience?
I like to think about my mother as part of the “universal audience” and her tight-chinned grimace, arms crossed, engaging, evaluating each play. The next time I want to shake things up, I will make sure I’m being careful and gracious.
It’s only polite.