Should a Playwright Ban Post-show Discussions?

Here at Chester Theatre Company, many of our audience value the range of post-show discussions we offer. Each play we produce has four performances followed by a discussion with the audience, two followed by a conversation with the cast, and one followed by a panel discussion.

Many of our audience members tell me they cherish these conversations. More generally, many tell us they come to Chester because they rely on us to produce plays that merit these conversations–plays that provoke thought and reward further discussion, whether at the theatre or in the car on the way home.

Recently, Outvisible Theatre Company, in suburban Detroit, was denied the right to hold post-show discussions following performances of David Mamet’s play Oleanna. This is not the first time that Mamet has prevented a theatre from following performances with a post-show discussion. Outvisible was told that if they held any kind of talk back session within two hours of the performance, they would be fined $25,000.

David Mamet

David Mamet

Chris Peterson reported on this conflict in a blog post on the OnStage website, where he is Editor-in-Chief. He has reached out to David Mamet’s representatives, but as of this writing has not received a response. He concludes his post by writing, “In an era when more dialog is needed, those who want to shut it down, aren’t doing themselves any favors.”

From earlier, similar injunctions, it appears that Mamet’s thinking is that he wants “the impact of his play not to be emotionally truncated by a structured discussion between the actors and their audience.”

Two questions arise for me. First, is there indeed an advantage to remaining in silence, to letting the impact of the experience we’ve just had settle in us without conversation, without immediately trying to put our thoughts into words? Do we deflate the experience through our move to discussion? On the other hand, might we gain something from sharing our experience, from extending the communal act of being together in the theatre?

Second, should a playwright control what happens following the performance? Playwrights have the right to have the words they wrote–and only those words–spoken. They have the right to approve casting. (Perhaps more on this in another post–the Edward Albee estate recently refused rights to a theatre that wanted to cast an African-American actor as Nick in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.) Where does a playwright’s control stop? Posting on Facebook, the theatre critic Frank Rizzo jokingly writes, “And don’t discuss it in your cars going home either, ya hear?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. And we’ll continue to cherish both our silent, private experiences, and the conversations we share in the theatre, in the car, at Chester Common Table, and elsewhere.