Support a child in finding their artistic voice

We know, as proven in various tragedies that have taken place involving young people, that our schools are not always providing a sense of family for our marginalized kids.  The arts often is the arena in which they find their voice, find their sense of purpose, find a family, and find their pride.

While sports can be a great avenue for some kids to establish their sense of self-worth.  It can help them find friends, learn teamwork and gain pride in themselves and their community.  However, many many kids don’t fit into the sports realm. They may not be inclined to challenging physical activity.  They may not excel, leaving them to feel outcast, ignored, unaccepted, or demeaned. Kids can be cruel.  The team may ridicule the kids who aren’t high achievers in the sport.  In these cases the result of their participation can have the exact inverse result of what involvement was meant to accomplish; that of inclusion, community, achievement.

Churches, synagogues and other religious organizations also are intended to build community, teach life lessons and support the members.  But in many cases, kids don’t identify with the beliefs of the group or haven’t made up their own mind as to what faith, if any, they wish to adopt.  The result can be feelings of disconnection and alienation as they are forced to pretend to feel part of the group while underneath they feel more and more alone.

In many communities, sports and church and school are the only places kids can identify to be part of a community.  When they don’t find that community there, they may feel lost, misunderstood, isolated.  The arts can fill this void.

Arts programs used to be plentiful in our public schools.  Classes and extra-curricular programs in art, music, drama, choir, along with shop classes and more provided places for kids to experiment and express themselves.  Art is individual.  No one creates the same way or the same thing. So there is no standardization. There’s no exact correct answer.  Self-expression of the individual is part of the endeavor and generally supported and praised.  So their sense of accomplishment relies on their own creative work and dedication.  While they all express themselves individually in these cases, they are doing it along with others in a collective way, providing the community they often desperately need.  They find their unique voice.

Additionally, many students are learning English as their second language.  Where the language barrier may make learning standard curriculum more challenging, and standardized testing more difficult, putting them at a disadvantage that can also lead to lower self-esteem, the arts are universal in their success in the form of self-expression.  It creates a level playing field for all involved and even praises their individuality.

So if you have kids yourself, or young extended family or friends who are considering participating in the arts, find ways to encourage them and support them.  For a birthday give them art supplies.  Let them try different things and experiment.  If they find their passion in something help them to develop it, and don’t chastise them if they change their mind a number of times.  Every child is different and only through trying will they know if they enjoy a certain art form.  Also, communicate with school officials your feelings toward the need for arts programs in our schools.

Patrick Spike as Sipos in 'Parfumerie'

Patrick Spike as Sipos in ‘Parfumerie’ – Bag&Baggage Productions, Dec 2016.

I was a very shy child.  All through school I was petrified of having to get up in front of the class to do anything.  I had a teacher who recognized this and took the time to ask me if I’d ever considered trying drama.  That one conversation was enough.  She showed an interest in me.  That was all it took.  I decided to sign up for her drama class, ended up trying out for the school play, and my mother was shocked and amazed on opening night to see her shy son up on stage in front of hundreds of people.  She forever after was my biggest fan.  I’d found something that suited me and that I could be passionate about, as well as a community to be a part of. It brought me out of my shell, developed my confidence and self-esteem and completely changed my life.

Every child has a creative streak somewhere inside of them.  It may be working with wood, or on cars, or with a paintbrush or an instrument. Help them find it.  Support it.  Nurture it. They will be better for it.


Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People


Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.


Is theatre its company, or its Artistic Director?

Here in Portland we’ve been seeing a great number of companies announcing the exit of their Artistic Director.  The search now begins for the new!  As I’ve considered the ramifications of this type of major transition, it’s made me consider… Is an artistic company defined within itself, or does the public associate it entirely with it’s artistic leader?  If it’s the latter, then what happens when that leader leaves due to retirement, a new position elsewhere, or some other reason?

In the different cases here in Portland that I remember in recent years, I think there’s been a combination of the two identities.  In some cases a charismatic and affable artistic leader can bring donors, sponsors, artists and audiences into the fold through their inspirational speaking and personable nature.  In others a more timid artistic leader may prefer to recede to the background when it comes to selling the organization to funders, preferring to let the work shine and other members of the staff and board take the more public role.  Both can work, but in my experience the Artistic Director in the spotlight, schmoozing the audiences and convincing them of the importance of the work we do as artists is the more common, and probably preferred model.

So if that is the case, what happens when that leader leaves?  It’s a very challenging and often difficult transition.  The news must be kept unannounced until the right time.  A search must be conducted; often nation wide, sometimes involving an agency to help in the search and filter process.  Then when the time comes, the news needs to be kept positive, exciting, and used as a means to transfer the energy of the audiences, donors, sponsors and others toward the promise of a new and thrilling vision.  ‘We’re not losing our beloved AD… we’re getting a fresh face with a fresh approach and a boost of new energy to the company.’

What the company hopes will NOT happen is that your supporters and fans feel betrayed, that they are less interested in the new direction the company is taking, that they will be comparing everything new to everything former, and in worse cases, they no longer wish to support you.  If that were the case then an entirely new audience may need to be found and developed, and the company could very well not survive the transition.

Not unlike the scrutiny of Apple in a post-Steve-Jobs world, the artistic company faces similar challenges but with one very different dynamic… The world of art is one of creation within a lens of a specific point of view.  We’re not making a widget.  We’re making stories, told in visceral ways, live before your eyes.  A great artistic leader will work to engage the audience on many levels, inspiring their imaginations and their sensibilities, to think, to feel, to want to share the experience.


Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People


Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.


You’ll never make a living as an artist

My parents would tell me, as a child, that I could be anything I wanted to be.  While encouraging, that’s not entirely realistic as demonstrated by my first selection for future career.  When my mother one day asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I said I wanted to be a midget.  I think that started my life long pattern of tending to choose a more unusual option at every opportunity.  But then when I discovered theatre in high school, it became my new greatest interest and future passion.  As high school was coming to an end, my father told me that I could never make a living doing theatre and that I should study computers instead.  So much for “be anything.”

When I went to college I started out planning to major in theatre and minor in psychology (along with one computer class).  Psychology was the only other area of study I could think of that interested me at all.  Surely that might be a more lucrative career option of theatre didn’t work out.  But I still struggled.  I was doing well in school… a very expensive private school mind you, but I still had the feeling all the time that I was taking classes and my parents were paying all this money and yet I still wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t sure that I was making the right decision, and at the time that decision seemed like it was so important and so final in a way.  So I ended up deciding to take a break from college and work for a while with a plan to return to college later when I’d figured it out.

I expected my parents to be really upset at this decision.  With the divorce court having decided what percentage of my school costs each parent would have to pay, my father actually seemed rather happy.  He pointed out quickly that if I took this break that he was no longer obligated to pay for my college.  My mother was worried what it meant for my future, but supported me in the decision.

This is my personal example of the struggle I think many artists go through trying to figure out if they can pursue their interest and talent.  Am I talented enough?  Can I make a living at this, or is it just a silly unrealistic dream?  What is the path I should be taking if I do really want to try to do this?  On and on.

For me, my father’s words were always in my head… that I’d never make a living doing theatre.  He’s fairly correct in that regard.  The number of theatre artists actually making a reasonable living doing what they love is extremely slim.  So I never gave it my full effort and energy. I never ran off to NYC or LA to try to make a go of it as a starving artist.  Instead I satisfied my passion doing it on the side with a regular day job at the same time.  Also, I have been lucky enough to work around and with theatre organizations through most of my career, having jobs that support the arts in various ways.  But there likely will always be part of me that wonders if I could have made it my life’s work if I’d really taken the leap; taken the chance to try it and potentially fail.

It’s a sad thing that our culture doesn’t value and support the artists the way it does a doctor, a lawyer, an executive.  Every one of us enjoys the work of artists in nearly every moment of our lives.  Graphic designs in magazines, on book covers, on billboards.  The actors we see in movies and on tv, and the thousands of people behind the scenes making those programs happen.  The music we hear on the radio, or as a jingle in a commercial.  The design of buildings and cars.  These are all just examples of art surrounding our lives. Yet we make it incredibly difficult for young people with a creative spark and talent to pursue an artistic career, and offer little hope of that career being financially rewarding.  Why is this the case?  Why don’t we as a society realize that art and artists are integral to our economy, to our enjoyment of life, to shaping our daily experience?  We continue to beat it down as a frivolous pursuit in school, while sports are not?  We discourage our kids to follow their passion and potentially shine, and instead funnel them into the mainstream with all the others to be one of the many.   Why?

Perhaps it’s fear; fear that our kids will fail and we don’t want them to suffer the heartbreak and embarrassment.  Maybe it’s what we’ve been taught; that success is defined by money and a job title and position that impresses others.  Whatever the reason, those that actually break through and become the artist they want to be have to do it despite the stigma and lack of understanding and support.  This is something we should work to change.  We need to recognize the work of artists as highly valuable.  We need to encourage kids who develop artistic passion and talent to pursue it completely.  We need to support the potential artists just as we do potential accountants, potential business managers, potential engineers.  Without the artists, what would our world look like?  Our clothing, the decor in our homes that enrich our daily lives, everything.  What a bland and boring world that would be.


Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People


Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.



Theatre has given me an extended family

Family, in traditional terms, are people that were given to us, that we did not choose.

Friends are a family we choose for ourselves based in love, respect, and mutual interests.

Theatre people are those who start out as working colleagues, people brought together for a temporary time to work, laugh, cry and expose our inner selves in sometimes very vulnerable ways, to whom afterward we might choose to stay connected.  Or perhaps we don’t see them for years.  But when we do, often it’s like no time has passed at all.

The intimacy of working so closely and so emotionally with your fellow actors, technicians, designers, director… It often connects us, like members of a tribe, with an unspoken commitment of support and care, of encouragement and acknowledgement, of remembrance of the landmarks of our lives.  It’s a powerful thread between us, even over great time and distance.

This is the family I’ve expanded and welcomed over the 30-ish years of doing theatre.  Together we’ve celebrated birth and life and cried over death.  We’ve uplifted each other, shared opportunities and successes, and toasted the failures and losses.  I feel so thankful for this huge family I now have, and I wish others who don’t experience it could understand how wonderful it can be.

I never had a big family, myself.  No siblings.  I was not very close to my extended family members.  Over the years I’ve lost my grandparents.  My father was distant for most of my life, and recently I lost my mother.  This makes me all the more grateful for this tribe of passionate artists and friends.  It’s not the things we acquire that define us.  It’s the people we connect and share with that carve the notches on the timeline of our lives.  The sharing of our joys, our sorrows, and the collective memories of all those moments past that we carry with us on our journey.  Thank you to all my theatre friends who have shared these moments with me.


Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People


Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.



An Actors Dilemma: Vulnerability versus Confidence

Being an actor can be tough.  The audition process often makes you feel like an object, being judged on your appearance, your voice, your talent, your experience… There’s so much rejection.  It can all lead to a great deal of insecurity and fear.  All this on top of the fact that most actors are already fragile.  Their emotions are more near to the surface than most people, which is a benefit when they need to access them for an emotional role, but a detriment in how it can play into the fears generated above.

So an actor needs confidence to be able to overcome these negative feelings, and be able to do their job.  Often actors are called upon in a role to do things, wear things, behave in certain ways that are humorous for the show or film, but might capitalize on the actors own imperfections, such as accentuating and building humor on a large actor being “fat” and therefore ridiculous.  Also, in rehearsal, an actor must be available to try things that might fail, that might potentially embarrass them.  They need to be bold in trying out different unique approaches to playing their character or in building a scene.  Without confidence it makes it much harder for the director to bring them out of their shell, to get them to go far enough with a humorous bit, or in projecting a specifically strong emotion.  Directors love actors who make bold choices, who try things easily, who follow their direction without being timid or inhibited or withdrawn.  But many actors struggle with this based on their fragile nature and often the rejection and confidence crushing experiences they’ve been in before.

While confidence is so important, at the same time an actor must be vulnerable. They must tap into emotions easily.  They must be able to identify with the characters they are playing, relate it to their own lives and experiences, in order to give an emotionally rich performance, or a funny portrayal of a flawed character, or act in ridiculous ways for an over the top comedy.  Their vulnerability though can be directly at odds with their confidence.

This is an actors dilemma.

Where does the balance between confidence and vulnerability come from?  Is it something they must be born with, or can it be learned?  Should actors just budget for therapy, because they know they’re gonna need it?  There’s really no single answer or method to accomplish this.  For those who are less confident, it may be that they need to work with a coach who can help them to make bold choices and learn how beneficial they are.  It may take working in productions and pushing themselves to go out on the limb.  Fake it ’till you make it might apply here.  Fake the confidence until you really feel it.

What happens if they have too much confidence and not enough vulnerability?  Or is this just a cover for their insecurities?  It often equates to an actor who is difficult to direct, thinking he/she knows better than the director, who bosses the other actors around.  What happens if they have too much vulnerability?  Typically this can mean an actor who has tons of potential, but who is afraid to let go and tap into their abilities to a bold degree.

While the dilemma goes on without any simple solutions, the balance between the two is very important toward being a successful actor.  Experience and training and hard work are in order to bring out the positive qualities of both.

Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People


Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.

Neil Simon’s lasting influence

I remember working on my first Neil Simon scene in drama class in high school.

I found the script and showed it to my scene partner and we were both excited to do it.  I believe the scene was from Plaza Suite, with the mother and father of the bride trying desperately to get their daughter to unlock the door, come out of the bathroom, go downstairs and get married.

As with most Simon plays, the dialogue is rhythmic and fast with jokes landing and then returning later in the scene in Simon’s skillful way.  I read an interview with Simon once in which he discussed his writing always using a yellow legal pad and pen.  He said that the longer paper allowed him to scan over it to see the beats, the rhythm, in an almost musical way.  This rhythm and patter to his dialogue was a signature.  He was a master of dialogue.

I would assume that so many of us who came into the theatre as an actor or director were strongly influenced by Simon.  I’ve worked on other scenes of his from high school to graduate school.  I’ve delighted in productions of his work from boisterous comedies to his semi auto-biographical dramas, the Eugene Trilogy.

There’s a term that some writers use when referring to writing that is so good actors can’t really screw it up… “actor proof.”  I’d say that his work may have helped to define that term.  While nothing is ever completely actor proof, his writing was so solid, so pulsing with humor and humanity, that just reading it on the page can be affecting to those listening.  So when performed by truly talented actors, his dialogue and stories can soar off the stage.  They are buoyant, musical, with strong threads of truth running through the hysterical scenes.  The characters are unique, individual, and so so fun to perform.

Some theatre people now are tempted to brush aside Neil Simon’s work as cliche, or outdated, or too familiar, similar to plays by Agatha Christie and others.  Because many of his works are older and have been performed so many times they consider them less worthy of consideration and think they’ll be less challenging to work on and therefore less enjoyable.  I would say that the works of Neil Simon hold a key to a certain style of comedy that can be very valuable for actors and directors to work on and develop the certain skills they require.  The experiences I’ve had discovering his wonderful characters and working on the style and speed of delivery of his dialogue was remarkably valuable.  I still use those skills regularly when working on comedies today.

Thank you Mr. Simon for your immense contribution to the cannon of contemporary American theatre, and to the skills of the actor and director.  Your work, and its influence, will continue for generations to come.

Neil Simon – July 4, 1927 – Aug 26, 2018
Pulitzer Prize for drama 1991

Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People


Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.



Equity, Diversity & Inclusion: Are you doing all you can?

I recently attended the annual board meeting of Bag&Baggage Productions in Hillsboro, OR.  I’m an Associate Artist with this organization and have been involved with them as an actor, director, former board member and more since 2008.

Last year they opened their new theatre called The Vault and launched into their first season.  A few of the season’s shows very pointedly attempted to highlight problems in our culture with long embedded racism and silencing of people of color, women and other marginalized groups.  It was tremendous to see these stories being told.

But the theatre realized that they needed to do much more.  They need to actively work to bring about change within the organization, as an example to the community in which we share our work, and hopefully let that spread out by inspiring others.

At the recent meeting it was discussed as a key part of their new 5 year strategic plan, and a new committee of the board was created specifically for EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion).

Already the theatre has gone about launching programs dedicated to telling more stories of women and people of color.  They have hired a number of new staff to oversee various programs from these groups and more programs are planned.  Prior messages and policies already welcome and express support for people of different sexual orientations and gender identity.  The organization, from the Artistic Director on down, is completely on board with these clearly defined plans and efforts and while this type of work will be very much ongoing, developmental and a great effort, it’s also such a great feeling to see these efforts taking shape so quickly, with such talented and passionate individuals joining the team to lead the way.

EDI is something that we as a culture must all work to embrace in order to uplift our community members that in the past have been silenced, ignored, belittled or worse.  We as performing artists have a unique opportunity to bring their stories to light, to help educate our communities on the value and joy in the diverse members of our society and learn to welcome them to the team as equals.

Will we as the privileged make mistakes along the way?  Of course.  But if we make the effort with an open heart and with full intent on learning and improving our interactions with others, that effort will be appreciated and can create a doorway toward a richer community.

What can you and the organizations you work with do to become more equitable, diverse and inclusive?  It starts with that question.

Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People


Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.



The expectation of Community Theatres to produce professional work

Back in the day, as we say, theatre was produced in New York, tested in out of town tryouts, then taken to a theatre along the great white way for hopefully a long popular run.  Later, if lucky, there might be a tour of a show to limited big cities.  This limited reach of live theatre left much of the country without the ability to see live theatre, unless they were part of the few lucky ones that could travel.

This is where the Regional Theatre system began.  Larger theatre companies were created in major cities to produce their own work for their region.  This exposed much more of the nation to live theatre, but certainly not all, and there was really very little opportunity for would be performers to get involved, test their craft, work.

Then, along with more open options for royalty permissions to produce plays came Community Theatre.  Smaller cities and towns everywhere started creating their own small theatre guilds and groups that encouraged community members to come out and be in a show, or help backstage, or help paint, run the box office, sell the tickets and more.  They were truly a community event with community members and family members coming out to support their friends and loved ones in the show.  Obviously these were not the most polished productions much of the time.  Sets, costumes, props were created out of what they had or could acquire and designed and finished by amateurs.  Direction and performance was a place of learning and of finding a creative outlet for the people involved.  They typically had no training, little if any experience, but maybe some innate talent and guts to rely on.  It was community on and off stage with all the encouragement and wide eyes that came with it.

Well here we are now, many many years later, with community theatre mixed with small and large professional theatres, with the lines often very blurry.  Does pay mean you’re pro?  Does it also require a certain level of expertise or training?  Theatres are abundant in cities and sometimes even in small towns… sometimes with more theatres than talent to support them.

Expectations have changed as well.  Audiences go to theatre expecting a high quality show, even if it’s a community theatre where every member is a volunteer.  The audience often has no connection to the cast or crew involved.  It’s no longer the community gathering on stage and off that it once was, cheering on your friends up there on stage doing their best acting, singing, dancing.  It now is often much more.  We expect a higher standard, a professional production, a level of talent on par with other theatres where performers are paid, more experienced, with years of training.

To attempt to deliver this high quality of production, the people involved rehearse evenings after work, weekends away from their family, countless hours, sometimes for a couple months or even more. Since the hours of rehearsal are shorter per day, rehearsals are spread out longer as they compete with work schedules and lives.  In the professional theatre, where a performer is being paid full time, they rehearse for 8 hours a day as their job.  They don’t have to work first, THEN go to rehearsal and work more.  So rehearsal periods in number of weeks can be shorter often than community theatre.  Maybe they rehearse 4 weeks, then perform 4 weeks, then move on to the next show.  Community theatre also relies on volunteers putting in long hours on the production side building sets, hanging lights and so forth.  These volunteers are often hard to find these days, unlike professional theatre with paid staff members in these roles.

So how do these compare?  With the commitment to countless hours on top of our every day lives, exhaustion that often leads to illness, and passion fueled work that often leads to absolute joy.

Community theatre involvement is huge.  Arguably I’d say it’s far more of a strain than that of professional theatre involvement, though of course the pros likely paid their dues over the years, got the training, worked extremely hard.

It boils down to an appreciation of the work of these people, driven by their love of this collaborative art form, of performing or designing or supporting in numerous ways.  I hope that audiences can imagine the work that they have undertaken for weeks and weeks to bring that show to life.  In our current model of all kinds of theatres blurring the lines of professional to community, coupled with the work of just getting audiences to come to the shows, supporting the theatre with ticket purchases and donations, attention should be paid to this extreme dedication and passion.

From the community theatres are born the future Hollywood stars and Broadway performers.  Let’s show them our deep appreciation and support on their journey.

Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People


Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.



AACT Town Hall: Community Theatres come together

Last Saturday I attended the AACT (American Association of Community Theatres) Town Hall held here in Portland.  Arts People has been a sponsor of a number of AACT events over the years and we consider ourselves a partner to them as well as a deep connection to community theatres all over the country and in Canada.  The Arts People system has always been a great fit for these organizations who have big goals and complex needs, but often small staffs with little time to accomplish tasks.

It was great to hear these groups sharing so openly their stories of successes and challenges so that other organizations might benefit from their experiences.  The performing arts are a small voice in our culture, it seems, struggling to be heard, to find support, to advocate for the importance of what they do, and to even survive.  I’ve unfortunately seen this struggle too often divide organizations and individuals from each other in what can often be seen as a competitive atmosphere, instead of supporting and uplifting each other. This discussion was clearly the opposite.  With AACT bringing together these organizations toward sharing (and it was a great turnout), they can glean valuable insight into how different organizations are benefitting from presenting different types of programs such as staged readings, educational offerings, new types of social marketing and more.

The meeting was held just down the street from our Arts People offices at Twilight Theatre, one of our clients.  I was able to introduce myself and see a number of our clients in attendance, which is always a pleasure.  Arts People was founded on a goal of working with and assisting performing arts organizations to succeed and thrive.  We’ve worked very hard over the years to maintain close relationships with our clients on a first name basis, so whenever we get the chance to get face to face we take it.  To see the generous sharing going on at this meeting was a complete pleasure.

I started my own career in theatre in high school, and then went immediately to community theatre. I learned SO much from performing, directing, and design, to what it means to serve on a board of directors, what level of professionalism in the work I came to expect in myself and others, and how I wanted to work in the creation of theatre, including my own personal style and voice.  It is a place for joy, creativity, learning, sharing, collaboration, teamwork, accomplishment and self worth.  I’ve carried all that experience and knowledge forward into my work in professional theatres and sometimes returned to guest direct in community theatres I have a connection with.

Thank  you AACT for all you do to bring these theatres together in meetings like this, to the theatres who generously share their knowledge and experiences to help others, and to the individuals who keep these organizations alive in your communities.

Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.



“Magic If”… for the audience

As an actor, there are many tools from many different schools of acting for us to utilize, play with, keep in our toolbox or leave alone if that tool doesn’t resonate with us.  These tools help us to discover deeper aspects of the character, to tap into emotions needed to play the scenes, relate in appropriate ways with the other characters, to play the period of the piece, to find the physical characteristics of our character and much more.

One of the grandfathers of acting who’s tools and methods still are referred to and used widely today is Stanislavski.  His “Magic If” was a simple, elegant way to discover or create nuances for the character based on possible past experiences and more.  We analyze a script first to find all the detail about our character that we can, but the script only gives us so much.  We need to fill in more detail based on clues, or simply out of our own imagination.

Example:  I’m playing a working class man in the 1930’s who is deciding to leave his family.

What if… Our character was abused as a child.  How might that past affect his present relations and his decision?

What if… His father died before he was born, so he never knew him.  How might that lack of a father example cause him to struggle in the role of father himself?

By imagining these possible back stories and history, it can color the performance I give providing depth, layers, nuances to the struggle he feels.  Things the audience is not directly aware of, but will greatly enrich the performance.

As an audience member, the work being done by the actors and the production team is intended to draw you into this story so you might feel the struggles, empathize with the characters, consider the dilemmas they face and wonder how you might handle the same situation.  This is the work of the audience when watching a performance.

In order to really feel the impact of a story, we need to be able to imagine ourselves in their situation.  No we don’t live in the 1930’s. Maybe you’re a woman instead of our a working class man like our character, so your situation and choices in his dilemma would be different.  But you can consider the “Magic If” of it.  What if you were faced with the same challenges he is?  Or what would you feel if you were his wife witnessing his emotional breakdown and wondering what to do.  By considering how you might feel or what choices you might make given yourself in a similar situation, we more deeply enjoy the experience of the performance.  This hopefully will lead to further consideration and discussions afterward.  It helps us all to be able to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes to relate to them better.

As a society, I think we currently struggle with a crippling lack of this ability.  Many people don’t know how, or don’t try to imagine what life is like for others.  It’s easier to dismiss them, to blame them, to label them as “bad”.  We also have powerful people trying to convince us that certain groups of people are the enemy in order to forward political or other agendas.  If we could better imagine and empathize with the struggles of others it can help us all to be kinder, to be more generous, to try to help uplift others who need help.

Imagine if this was something we actively taught in our schools.  I remember as a child going to live theatre performances as a “field trip”.  We were taught how to behave in a theatre, how to show our appreciation, etc.  Sometimes we did followup assignments analyzing the play we’d seen or sharing our experience watching it.  If this work regularly included discussion about the “Magic If” of empathy; of imagining ourselves in their lives, just think how powerful this could be in developing our children’s ability to see past differences of color, gender, orientation, religion, nationality and more.

The arts can teach us so much and expose us to lives and situations we might never be part of otherwise.  Perhaps we could be using them as a platform for teaching empathy as well as a great form of entertainment.


Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.