When they’re done right, theatrical productions can seem like well-oiled machines—scene changes accomplished in the blink of an eye, actors casually rattling off pages of dialogue, costumes changed as if by magic. The supreme achievement of theatrical art is the impression of effortlessness. Audiences aren’t supposed to see the backstage toil and trouble that go into creating the finished product.
Until now, that is. For its 2013–2014 season, Main Street Theater is introducing “Part of the Art,” a program that pulls back the curtain on the dramaturgical process. Audience members will be able to sit in for free on first read-throughs, and—for a price—observe the costume parade ($20), attend a dress rehearsal ($40), or have dinner with cast and crew ($50).
“We’ve been trying to find ways to connect our audience more strongly with what we’re doing,” says MST Executive Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden. “How do we help our audience invest a little more in us? If it’s only sitting in a seat and watching the show and going away, okay… But if there are other ways to excite people about what we’re doing, we want to find those.” The program was inspired by similar efforts by theatrical companies around the country. “The buzzword right now is ‘audience engagement,’” Udden says.
Last season, MST invited a group from the Junior League to watch the first complete run-through—or “stumble-thru,” as it’s called—of its production of Henry V. To Udden’s surprise, the audience loved the roughness of the performance. “We’ve had preview performances where something goes horribly wrong and we’ve had to start the scene over again—audiences love that,” she says. “They love feeling like they’re in on it. People are just really curious about how things are made.”