We had a performance of my short play “Wild River” up last night at Bumbershoot, with Brandon as the priest and Anthony as the journalist, as part of our “Best Of” designation for the “Eat My Shorts” Play Festival. Mary Cutler, the director of “Wild River” for “Arcana,” has switched the boys in their two roles, so when the show premieres on Friday at Open Circle as part of a full evening of short pieces, it’ll be significantly different.
“Wild River” originally premiered on the Center House stage about three years ago as part of 24 Hour Theatre and it was a blast bringing it back to the same venue. It was also fun, though challenging, to see it in front of a Bumbershoot audience. As anyone who’s taken a fringe theatre show to Bumbershoot can tell you, it’s a whole different experience. Fringe theatre audiences consist of fans of the theatre company, friends of the actors and artists, and those brave members of the general public who enjoy unconventional work in small black box venues. (In marketing meetings we call these people “early adapters” and “innovators” and we covet them mightily.)
But Bumbershoot theatre audiences are, near as I can tell, made up of people who have grown bored of waiting in line for music and stand-up comedy and have just wandered in looking for something different. It’s an accidental audience, by and large, and you never know quite how they’ll react to anything. They’ll leave mid-show. They’ll laugh at drama and talk through comedies. And more than anything, they seem generally interested in the novelty of real live people just a few feet away telling a story.
That’s not to say that they weren’t a good crowd: they were, laughing at the appropriate moments and giving enthusiastic applause afterwards. But I always leave Bumbershoot thinking that as theatre artists we’re still not doing our job well enough to make these accidental audiences our audiences. We can and should do better at making theatre something people seek out, and not just stumble across.