Pre-play Engagement Tactics

damaris 1 by Damaris Montalvo

Post-show discussions and talkbacks are pretty commonplace in LA theatre – and they’re wonderful. They give the audience members who stay behind a chance to expand and enhance their understanding of the work they just saw. I personally enjoy the opportunity to unpack some of the tougher themes explored in a given play, and I love seeing the play from the POV of the actors, directors, designers, etc. I always find these conversations to be very rewarding and well-worth the extra time spent after the show. The Theatre @ Boston Court is particularly inventive when it comes to post-show engagement opportunities, ranging from talkbacks and “Illuminations” panels to the Livewired to Late Night Salon.

But PRE-show engagement opportunities are fairly rare.

Now, by “pre-show engagement opportunities,” I mean tactics that really engage your thinking and get you pondering about critical themes related to the show. I don’t consider reviews as part of these tactics, as they are often not about exploring key questions, but about providing an opinion on several aspects of a production. I actually avoid reading them, as I like coming to a play with no expectations or baggage to inform any preconceptions of the show. I like formulating my own opinion as I experience the production.

But pre-show engagements tactics are different. They’re not about summarizing damaris 2what you’re going to see with pointed commentary; they’re about getting you in the right mindset before the show. Getting you to ask yourself key questions and consider what the answers are for yourself before watching the events unfold.

Aside from Boston Court, I’ve only ever experienced pre-show tactics at one other LA theatre, where prior to the show there were a few prompts and activities in the lobby to get you thinking about avatars and about how we choose to represent ourselves in the digital space. These interactive experiences immediately connected me to the subject matter and beckoned questions about the notion of creating a virtual persona. What is your true self? And is there value – or freedom – in purposefully representing someone you are not?

For Alcestis, Boston Court brings up the weighty subject of death, asking you to complete the sentence, “Before I die, I want to …” Right from the moment you come in through the glass doors, you are greeted with a wall peppered in note cards bearing that statement with scribbled-in answers. As you get your ticket for the show, you are invited to take a card and fill in your own answer.

damaris 4

This kind of question is very effective. Without giving anything away, it preps you for the very first scene, in which Critical Mass asks you how you carry on with your existence awaiting the unshakable reality that your death is inevitable. But how do we live out our days with this heavy threat looming over us? Does realizing this make us act or do things differently, or do we spend our days avoiding it? And will we be ready when we come to the end of our rope?

If you follow Boston Court on social media, it’s possible you encountered this question even before stepping foot in the theatre. Boston Court has been posting unique or funny note cards submitted by theatregoers. They actually began this pre-show trend on social media with American Misfit and the unexplained proliferation of various burlap characters. This tactic piqued my interest. I started following the posts more closely, waiting for new pictures to surface. I shared the mystery and speculation about what they could be with my friends, and by the time the show opened, I couldn’t wait to find out if I was right.

The bucket list cards had the same effect.damaris 3

Most of all, they made me wonder whether I’m actually on track to do the things I want to do before I die. The question made me want to take action, bringing to the forefront the often overlooked reality that they might never happen if I don’t start making them happen. And with those thoughts in mind, I plunged into a contemporary world that explores this age-old question.

So what do you want to do before you die?

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