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B.1.c  Audience education. 

Our audiences are as much a part of our curricular task as are students.  Since the university’s aim is the dissemination of knowledge and the challenging of persons to become complete, the command of focused attention of any group of people is a mandate for instruction in these matters.  As a stu­dent you pay dearly for this experience (even if getting to class is mightily difficult some­times).  But an audience pays as well—with time, travel, admission, even baby-sitting—by which it commits itself to our keeping.  It is our obligation to offer excellence, thoughtful­ness and significance, concerns which go beyond the numbing and desensitizing excesses of most television and popular entertainment.  In brief, we need to approach our selection, preparation and production tasks with at least as much conscience and seriousness as we would apply to the preparation of a class we all agree to instruct.  Our task is to spread knowledge about the way the world works and how it ought to work, how human beings can become complete, and less significantly, how the arts can function in our lives.

These curricular responsibilities are not always easy to fulfill.  They sound so serious!  But they can be and are addressed through comedy as well as more serious plays.  They often must be approached, as is all education, through dangerous encounters.

In this case “dangerous” suggests two meanings.  The first has to do with confronting members of the audience with themes, values, and characters which challenge, and even threaten easy as­sumptions based on long-held and, perhaps, not recently examined opin­ions.  It is a major role of theatrical art to present disquieting images, foreign concepts, un­settling alternatives to its audiences, and not to settle for only amusement or the pleasant passage of time to­gether.  And this is especially true of theatre in the educational setting.  A successful en­counter for the caring theatre artist, of course, is a matter of appropriate degree and intentionality.

The second meaning for “dangerous” in this setting has to do with the possible backlash of some members of the audience toward the artist’s intent.  Presentation of language, sub­ject matter, disapproved character actions or traits, opposed values expressed, social pat­terns violated (smoking, drinking, etc.), all can lead to confrontation in the real world well outside the fictive world of the play.  Without careful control, many of these encounters can become more evil in terms of the demeaning of persons than the “evil” opposed.  And, remember, this caution applies to the artist’s treatment of the accuser as well.

The lesson one learns about attempting “dangerous encounters” is to know the values and tolerances of the audience you serve, to measure carefully the validity and importance of your choices, and to approach the challenge with love and nothing but examined concern.

Next Section: B1d: Discipleship Obligations

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