A Rumination on Audience Development and a Short Series of Unwieldy Questions

by Kevin Lawler

in Audience & Community Engagement

Post image for A Rumination on Audience Development and a Short Series of Unwieldy Questions

(This post is part of the Audience (R)Evolution online salon curated by Caridad Svich for the TCG Audience (R)Evolution Convening in Kansas City, MO in 2015.)

I have an obsession with the enigmatic and illusory nature of time. One of the best descriptions that I have ever heard of for our birth, life and death was that we are all as one river flowing, no separateness, until that river goes over a cliff (our birth) and the single unified body is divided into millions of individual droplets. Our lives here are the passage of these tiny droplets as they fall and our death is when they smash back into each other at the bottom of the waterfall and become one river again, unified and quietly flowing onward.

When we speak of audience development I feel like what we are really speaking of is the search for our connectedness. There is no greater unifying activity then to sit and share stories with each other. The current dominant performance/audience structure for the performing arts has been so deeply infiltrated with elements of capitalism and patriarchy that it is difficult for many to see where they adversely affect the original endeavor. I believe that we must continue to increase our consciousness of the economic, political, personal, cultural and sociological forces that influence this activity (like this salon!) while at the same time devoting the bulk of our soulful energy to engaging in this endeavor in its purest form – and experiment – with new ways – which is happening all over.

We have thousands of young artists emerging from in-depth training each year with a strong, deep and wild desire to create new work that explores our lives and world. They are also hungry to create new ways of living in the world. This vast and growing army of the imagination is reason for joy and deserves as much energy as can be mustered to help create both inside and outside the established practices and  institutions. This is a huge, ever- expanding force that can potentially reshape not just the art form, but also the structure of society toward more vibrant and compassionate ways of living.


Finally, to ramble a bit further in the macro, here is . . .

A Short Series of Unwieldy Questions

“The end of the world will be legal.”

Thomas Merton

Are we riding on a red, white and blue boat with millions of fear gripped people who will essentially try (through myriad rationalized decisions) to disenfranchise, disable, silence or kill anyone that is perceived as weaker or different? If yes, how deeply and where am I (are we) partaking in this process?

Are there really not enough resources for everyone globally to live a healthy, vibrant life or is that a myth of fear propagated largely through nationalism and capitalism?

How do we help release the grip of our survival mind so that light can flood in?

If we are in the beginning stage of our extinction as a species what stage of grieving are we in and what of sort of death do we want to have? Is it destructive, compassionate, naïve, or all three, to ask this question?

Is compassion born through the process of dealing with and/or recovering from pain?

Are love and deep consciousness one in the same?

Do fear and desire have to remain our masters or can we sit and make friends with them as a species?

To what extent does art help shatter the illusions of time and separateness?

How can art help to reveal the threads of the infinite running through the fabric of everyday?

Is a significant sharing of stories essential to improving the health of our communal life?

How can we increase our capacity to make theatre that is so strong in its compassion and generosity (*including the means of production and dissemination) that it fosters a micro-revolution of love inside everyone who takes part?

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Ideally the means of production and dissemination are compassionate and communal. Among other things this means that performances should be affordable and accessible to the majority of the community regardless of income level, race, gender, geography, etc. and that producers and directors understand themselves to be in a role of service to everyone involved with the production rather than working from the illusory idea of “I’m in charge”.

IMG_0749LawlerKevin Lawler is a poet, playwright, producer, director, designer, and actor.   He is the Producing Artistic Director of The Great Plains Theatre Conference, a co-founder of the award winning Blue Barn Theatre, the founder and Artistic Director of the National Institute For The Lost, and the founder and host of the monthly storytelling gathering “The Stories of O”.


Images: These photos are from the GPTC PlayFest which is a performance festival held in various locations across Omaha. PlayFest examines how theatre is produced, its connection to society and what new designs are possible. Performances take on a variety of forms from devised work created by local and national artists, to full-length plays highlighting the work of honored and featured playwrights to Neighborhood Tapestries, a celebration of local stories, music, art and community. The result is a diverse and vibrant portrait of the city, a chance for different groups to interact and a dialogue within the community about the stories that affect our lives.


Audience (R)Evolution is a four-stage program to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. The Audience (R)Evolution grant program was designed by TCG and is funded by Doris Duke.