I love talkbacks. As an audience member, I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about what I've just seen.
There are those who think poorly of talkbacks. They think theater, in many ways an ephemeral art, is to be experienced, not analyzed. This is the same argument made by those who think you shouldn't hold poetry interpretation classes. I understand the sentiment -- you should experience art yourself, through your own eyes. However I don't think a talkback (or a class or lecture or book club) takes away your ability to form your own ideas.
Now, I'm not a fan of all talkbacks. I didn't stay for "What Is A History Play?" at the end of Marie Antoinette. It didn't involve any of the Marie Antionette team and was instead just a scholarly discussion. That I don't need. I like to know: What were the creatives or actors thinking at X point?
That is why I was thrilled that the night I attended the Donmar Warehouse production of Julius Caesar at St. Ann's Warehouse there was a talkback with director Phyllida Lloyd. After Julius Caesar, I wanted to know where the idea came from. Going into this production, I felt putting the Shakespeare play in a women's prison was simply a gimmick. During the show, I sat there marveling how in some ways, a prison was the perfect location for this play. The "men" at the heart of Julius Caesar are stuck together in many ways, despite the tension between them, they cannot escape each other. So it is in a prison. But a women's prison? Why? It works well. Frances Barber and Harriet Walter are perhaps the best Caesar and Brutus I've ever seen. But why was it done to begin with? Where did Lloyd get the idea to make it a performance, with the prisoners performing Julius Caesar for guests? It could have just as easily been Julius Caesar set in a prison, without the added conceit of the show-within-a-show. It was fascinating to hear Lloyd talk about what she thinks the show-within-a-show element brings to her production. She told the audience that these are women for whom this is their time to shine - a time that might be cut short at any moment. They will soon be silenced, whether in the middle of the performance or right after it.
Yes, Lloyd may have said this in an interview before. In fact, it is likely she did. However there is nothing like hearing these thoughts expressed right after you've seen the results of them in action. Plus, talkbacks offer the opportunity to ask about aspects of a production you are curious about. It's not as if hundreds of hands pop up and there is a 1% chance of being heard; generally, if you want to ask a question, you can. I remember, after an Encores! staging, someone asking Patti LuPone about amplification. The question had no obvious direct relevance to the show we had seen, but it made sense in the mind of the questioner - he was bothered by the microphones utilized in the production. He wanted to ask what Ms. LuPone thought about the sound and so he did. He seized his opportunity.
I understand wanting to leave after the applause ends. However I urge you to stay if a talkback is offered at the end of a performance. You can keep your own opinions -- what you feel and think after a piece is based on so many intangible elements -- but you might learn something that enhances them. You may also hear something new. Plus, your attendance at these events ensures that more of them will happen. So stay a little after the lights come back on. If you don't like it, you can always leave during it.
Follow Cara Joy David on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CaraJoyDavid