The Challenge of Meh: audiences, enthusiasm and our choices.

meh-jason-leontiOne of the things that comes up often in convo with theatrical artists is how maddening it is when the audience doesn’t respond as enthusiastically as you’d like.

Whether its our choice in title, subject, our approach, our programming, our casting, whatever. . .there comes a time in all of our artistic work when people who have always said, “Awesome!” instead say “Awful!” – or even worse: “Meh”. We get frustrated that what we thought people were going to feel isn’t happening. We get angry because we are addicted to getting what we want from people.

Perhaps we’ve gotten used to people telling us that we always knock it out of the park. Or that what we do is so provocative, outside-the-box, or thought-provoking. Maybe we’ve heard the word “Amazing” or “Genius” a little too often. Or we’re very used to being the outsider who is always “pushing boundaries”. Or we’re convinced by our audience that we always offer the smartest, newest, or most professional work.

funny-pictures-mehWe’ve become accustomed to getting excitement back from people, but sometimes. . . the excitement just doesn’t come.

And that’s when we shift to blame. We blame them. We blame THEM. We blame them for not “getting it”. We blame them for “not appreciating” everything we do. We blame them for “asking so very much of us!” We blame them for not being available and co-dependent enough to give us what we’re addicted to: the constant praise.

But here’s a not-so-shocking newsflash: Our audiences, our supporters, our fans are not obliged to be thrilled with our choices all of the time.

Instead of blaming them – which is really just a way of displacing our own uncomfortable feelings – perhaps we should take a moment to evaluate our own choices. How are our choices contributing to the “meh” we’re getting? As often as not, what we’re getting from our audience probably comes from our own place of “meh”.

Are we making choices we’re merely comfortable with instead of choices we’re truly enthusiastic about? Are we operating out of a sense of conventionality or a desire to slow down a bit? Are we playing it safe monetarily or creatively in order to not risk as much financial or emotional capital? And, are we really as jazzed about the choices we’ve made ourselves?

mehThere’s nothing wrong with making decisions based on these factors. There really isn’t. It a natural part of the artistic cycle . And most people understand the need to pace ourselves or the need to remain financially solvent as an artist. But we can’t kid ourselves about these factors, either.

If we’re honest with ourselves about why and how we’re doing the work, we’ll understand the audience a lot better. We can approach the work with a new sense of rigor to make it as good as it can possibly be – and then we’ll stand a chance at getting beyond the “meh”.

And if we can turn a “meh” choice into a “pretty great” choice, we’re probably elevating our work.

So instead of whining that you’re not getting what you want or need from people, take a good hard look at your choices, own them . . . and then up your game.

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One comment

  1. As an actor, I imagine that developing a thick skin is essential… but then it has to be porous to some degree or one won’t be able to learn from other people. It’s hard. I’m an academic and sometimes the reviews come back negative. There’s nothing to do but pick yourself up and keep going!

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