For the first time in our 25 year history, the Arden is presenting the work of Samuel Beckett with a production of Endgame. We wanted our audiences to have an opportunity to discuss the play, ask questions, and share their feelings, so we are hosting a discussion after every performance. These discussions have primarily been moderated by Sally Ollove and Suzana Berger. We asked them a few questions about this experience. Here’s what they had to say:
How did you get pegged to moderate these discussions?
Suzana: As assistant director on the production, I can give audiences some great behind-the-scenes stories on conversations about the design and ways we worked on or discussed specific moments in rehearsal.
Sally: I’ve been a pinch hitter for the Artistic Department sometimes as a moderator for post-show discussions on plays I’ve dramaturged or assistant directed. As a freelance dramaturg, I often get called in to moderate conversations with audiences.
Suzana: He leaves so much room for interpretation in this play and his others. He wanted people to respond to what they see, so it’s exciting that people see so many different things happening and interesting to hear a lot of different perspectives.
Sally: I believe that part of Beckett’s work demands the audience to work with him. I’ve been telling audiences that only half of the story takes place on the stage, the other half is taking place in each individual audience member’s mind. Since I only have access to my own experience of the piece, I’ve found it invaluable to hear from other audience members and the artists what the piece is saying to them. I find that even people who don’t like the work have thought fairly deeply about their experience.
How does this experience compare to other theatre discussions you’ve participated in?
Suzana: Audience members have been more genuinely curious and generous in these discussions than many others I’ve experienced. People have been equally interested in the reactions of their fellow audience members as they have been in mine.
Sally: Audience members have started asking other audience members–complete strangers–questions about their experiences. This is always my favorite moment in post-show discussions, but it almost never happens, especially when actors are onstage. I’ve really loved the candor and intelligent insights audience members have offered.
Sally: How did Beckett describe the set?
Suzana: Always questions about the set. At the beginning of the run, it was “What materials is the set made of?” Now it’s become, “What is this set meant to be? Where is this play happening?” I’ve been fascinated by how many different situations people see in it.
Sally: I’ve also had people every single night ask me to pass on their thanks to the actors for their honest portrayals. One night, someone commented that they would come to see Scott Greer read a phone book, and another audience member responded: “And now you have!”
What’s one question you didn’t know the answer to?
Sally: There are a lot of questions I don’t know the answer to, but I don’t think Beckett knew either. Or at least, he wasn’t telling! He was really cagey about what he meant or intended.
Suzana: Beckett’s personal religious views – how much did religion impact his writing? I know he was struggling with the same huge questions that many other artists of his post-WWII historical moment were – how can there be a God when this kind of destruction and violence is happening? – and he alludes to that in Endgame with Hamm’s request that everyone pray to God followed by a frustrated, “The bastard! He doesn’t exist!” But I don’t know about Beckett’s childhood experiences with religion or personal attachment to it.
Sally: I had one brilliant audience member connect Endgame to the Dancing Around the Bride exhibit that recently closed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In particular, this audience member picked up on similarities between John Cage’s use of silences in his work and Beckett’s silences in Endgame. He noted the ways in which the audience is invited to insert themselves into those silences as moments of reflection. I freely admit that I’ve been using that one since.
Suzana: I often start the discussions with a question for the audience: what are you remembering most strongly from the play? It could be a line, a moment, an image, a relationship, a theme, a feeling you had. One night the last response to that question was a woman who said, “compensation for loss, all the characters compensating for some kind of loss.” The first question was a response to that woman’s comment: “Can you say more about that? What do you mean about loss?” It was the moment when I felt like the discussion was really giving strangers who sit in a dark room experiencing the same thing the opportunity to actually experience the thing together and learn from each other’s perspectives.
Sally: I would say: if you are feeling especially over or under whelmed about the play, then you should stay. Don’t be afraid to stay if you didn’t like the play. Don’t be afraid if you didn’t “get” the play. Talking through your experience is great for us to hear and you might find something in conversation that offers you a way in.
Suzana: If you’re unsure about seeing Endgame because you’re worried you won’t get it, let that go and allow yourself to just be in the moment, in the theatre, and let it affect you, let meanings come to you. Participating in the discussion gives you a chance to listen to the meanings that other people made and to continue making new ones after you leave the theatre.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the experience?
Sally: Art would be boring if everyone’s tastes were the same and so would post-show discussions. As artists, it’s important that we don’t feel distanced from our audiences and that they don’t feel distanced from us. Also, I’m sorry I can’t let you all up onstage to see the set – we’re just not insured for that.
Suzana: Thank you to all the audience members who’ve stayed to talk and listen! It’s really tremendously fun for me to hear such a wide range of thoughtful responses to such a provocative play.
Endgame is on the Arcadia stage through March 10, 2013. Post-show discussions are held after every performance. Photos of the post-show discussion on opening night by Plate 3 Photography.