Our Audience, Our Otra Familia

by Rupert Reyes

in Audience & Community Engagement

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(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.)

We begin from the premise that theater is an art form that requires three elements; actor, audience and script.  This is as we see and enjoy other theaters that play with different versions of these three fellows. We choose the script, we cast the show and we invite the audience.  Honestly, I believe our job is to select plays or book artists that engage our audience.  Here we employ two other principles we believe in.  Theater is to entertain and educate.  Not just one at a time but both at the same time.  This is part of our mission so it guides our selection.  We are the artist, the experts (or so we think) who do the research, discover the new plays, puts them in the hands of the best production team you can assemble, and advertise through as much media as possible to inform and invite our audience to the show.  The venue allows for the combination of the three elements.

We do involve the audience in another way thought.  Teatro Vivo produces the Austin Latino New Play Festival.  Ok, it isn’t up there with Sundance but we have fun.  The point is that we bring three new scripts to our audience and then engage them in a critique, right then and there.  Followed by an informal gathering to engage one one or mano a mano with each other.  I can say that in the 5 years of the festival, 15 plays have been read, and 5 have gone to receive full productions.  I name drop here.  Roxanne Schroeder-Arce’s “Mariachi Girl” was first read at the ALNPF.

Then there is the talk back.  It works for us partly because of this.  Our company makes the audience feel like family.  This is made a bit easier because we are Latinos. I give great credit to my wife and cofounder, JoAnn Carreon-Reyes.  She has always handled front of house since day one.  If you think that audiences are merely waiting around for the show to start, you are neglecting part of the performance.  What?  She sets the mood, the tone in which the audience enters the theater.  Added note, JoAnn also has a natural ability to remember names.  How nice to be welcomed back in such a personal manner.  Then 4 years has become a tradition with our group, we have a talkback.  Our audiences don’t want to go home.  It is like they are expecting un cafesito con pan dulce after the show.  This is the Latino aspect.  We are very strong in community, family and amistad, friendship.  It was a natural step to engage them as a group after the show.

This is what works for us.  The personal touch with the audience and selecting plays not based on what sells or is popular.  We treat audiences as we want to be treated.  Do theater that engages, is relevant to my life and is a whole lot of fun.  Even if sometimes it makes us cry.

Rupert Reyes is the Artistic Director and one of the founders of Austin’s only bilingual Latino theatre company, Teatro Vivo. Teatro Vivo is dedicated to producing quality bilingual theater accessible to all theater audiences and artists. Teatro Vivo reflects the heart and soul of the Latino reality by opening a unique window for all to share in this experience.

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.