The attraction – or alienation – of audiences

I happened to find this as a draft on another blog of mine and realized that that was possibly not the blog it belonged on – but it still contains valid points to me. The draft was originally on Stage Takeoff, but being a post on a TV-show and containing some very personal views of mine not directly aimed at traveling for theater, I figured it didn’t belong there. But it does contain personal views of mine about performing arts, so I figured it still had some validity to be – at the very least – on this, my personal blog. That was one of the reasons why I started blogging in the first place.

Of course, I could just say: “Who the f@$& does Hübbel think he is?!” and get it over with – but I think that outburst would also need an explanation.

The original is dated sometime in early January. Here it is:

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The Danish TV channel TV2 Zulu was showing a marathon of re-runs of Comedy Fight Club 3 on Friday night. The concept of Comedy Fight Club is that a group of comedians are going through a challenge in each episode after which they have to use the theme/challenge of the week to write material for a show. A winner of each challenge is named in the end of the episodes, the winner of the final episode being the overall winner of the season.

One of the challenges in season 3 was to do ballet, and Nikolaj Hübbe, who has been a soloist at the New York City Ballet and is now the artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet, was their coach. Given that the comedians aren’t all completely physically graceful nor in possession of delicate motor function or fingerspitzgefühl (“not completely” even seems like an overstatement with some of them), I don’t think you can expect the most supreme of the “finer arts” from them – and if they aren’t activated effectively, they do what comedians do best: make fun of the situation.

It’s true that they are supposed to be squeezing out something funny about the situation in the end, and I do find it hilarious when the ridiculous of the different worlds are pointed out – but seeing this episode was frustrating. I know that Hübbe is excellent in his field and probably able to do the supreme onstage, but his expectations to the comedians clearly exceeded their abilities. I do realize that they are supposed to be challenged, but at the same time it seems ridiculous to try to make them do what someone who has trained ballet since age 10 (if not before) and has later been professionally trained is supposed to do.

Seemingly, Hübbel had picked out something that the comedians might be able to pull off in all of their physical lack of grace, but he wasn’t exactly being encouraging; he was condescending from start, for one putting one of them down for being on the heavy side (as in: not someone I would call fat, but not exactly slim/slender either). He got to the point where he got physical and hands on, physically pushing/pulling one of them through the choreography instead of directing him from the side. He even stated that participating in the program might have been a mistake that could be harming his reputation.

I do realize that the one Hübbel got physical with was probably the most physically awkward one of the comedians, I do realize that discipline is necessary when having to do with performing (especially physical arts), and I do realize that the program could be edited to make him look like an impatient, elitist *bleep*, but it wouldn’t happen if they didn’t have enough footage to do so. I have seen people complain about the inabilities of the comedians before, but they still had the patience to try to teach them. And the comment about the program possibly harming his reputation throws me in an entirely different prong.

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I hadn’t gone any further than that, but I imagine the prong being Hübbel’s own image, the image of the finer arts, and/or attracting people to the finer arts.

I don’t think I was necessarily prone to go directly for the finer arts myself, but have still been attracted to them – possibly through my father, who had been attracted to them as well (if I know him well enough); it’s possible that he had somehow exposed me to the finer arts. But I don’t think that I was ever in the segment attending the shows of the finer arts in the fancy buildings in my fur and pearls around my neck.

Which brings me to something having been discussed quite a bit (not just through my time as a student of dramaturgy at Aarhus University, I’m sure): how to attract a new audience and how to attract young people who would rarely go see a production – if at all.

It is possible that the Royal Theatre (which is the most prominent provider of the finer arts in Denmark) doesn’t want another audience than its target audience; those with the fur coats and expensive pearls. But their economy and a general need of attracting the audience not otherwise likely to attend productions in general (not only at the Royal Theatre) makes me consider how they could actually attract people otherwise not likely to attend productions of ballet or opera to ballet and opera.

Speaking as one not necessarily likely to attend productions of ballet or opera in fancy surroundings… Granted: you say Shakespeare, and you have my attention. But in spite of being in the good book of the Virgin Queen, I wouldn’t say that Shakespeare is necessarily exclusive to the finer arts. At the same time, if you give me comedy, I’m much likely to sit my backside down and pay attention. Yes, I’d say that I’m in the major target audience of stand-up comedy, so that’s an easy/cheap way of lulling me into many things. At the same time, I believe that one should behave in an orderly manner towards each other – which includes being patient with people not being used to the world you’re in. Getting people to pay attention, focus, and learn from you in spite of being out of their element and strangers to your world can be done while behaving in an orderly manner. This is a question of respect in my world – and to me, respect is a two-way street.

In conclusion: I think that someone like Nikolaj Hübbel appearing in a show like Comedy Fight Club is an amazing chance to attract a new audience to the so-called “finer arts” (in this case: ballet) – if not an audience as is, then at least to open some sort of gateway to educate this new potential audience. But in my eyes, Hübbel screwed up that chance by acting like a pompous, arrogant arse. Who would attend a production if they are, or think they will be, treated like that – like idiots? If you make them feel welcome in your world, they are more likely to treat it with respect and the seriousness it may deserve.

I wouldn’t call myself a complete stranger to neither opera nor ballet, but again: I don’t think I’m the right segment – and if I am, I’m in the very periphery that is likely to be alienated by arrogance and whatnot.

Again, I could just say: “Who the f@$& does Hübbel think he is?!” and get it over with – but I think that outburst would in fact need an explanation.

Consider that explanation delivered.

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