Finding Clarity in the Clouds
Recently us Tut'Z have been wrestling with some fundamental questions: Who are we? What do we do? How do other people see us and what we do? Calling it an identity crisis is a little... dramatic. More like an identity adventure. Mainly, we're wondering if calling what we do "Commedia dell'Arte" is a misnomer — if we've wandered past the bounds of the traditional form into something new — and if so, if we need to find new terms to describe what we do so we're not setting up expectations for audiences that we don't end up meeting.
This is a pretty big, broad question, and there are all kinds of ways we're tackling it. One relatively simple one, is to look back in time at reviews for our various productions, and see if there are any insights we can pull straight from the professional critics. The idea of mining a big chunk of text for a little insight hidden in plain sight got me thinking: word clouds! That would be an easy, hopefully interesting way to visualize some of the words and phrases that keep popping up in reviews of our work. The more times something is mentioned, the bigger it would be in the cloud.
Because I'll never settle for the corny heart or America-shaped template, I made my word cloud into the shape of our Arlecchino mask, of course.
And the most common filtered (i.e. not "and", "the", etc.) word, by far? Audience. So that's something! Not a mind-blowing secret, but a helpful reminder of how central the audience is to what we do. One of the unique aspects of what we do is the way we converse with our audiences, how the pace and the specifics of the show can very wildly night to night depending on the mood and ideas of that night's crowd. With our show Love Letter Lost, we realized the audience was such a vital part of our show that we became our own audience, sitting in full view stage left and right, giggling and shouting back at our on-stage company mates, to model the attention, courage to participate, and sense of humor we so desperately needed from everyone to really get our show off the ground each night. Plus we literally had no backstage, so... two birds, one stone.
Other terms that showed up bigger on the word cloud? Phyical, characters, fun, and improvisational. Plot's there too, although in checking back at the reviews, the general feedback is that the plot actually isn't important, it's the relationships and improvised comedy underlying the loose plot that made an impression on reviewers.
A small sample size and critics might not be our core constituency, but another piece we can add to the puzzle in our search for answers to "who are we?" and "what do we do?" and most importantly for us theatre artists, "what are the critics saying?"
On more takeaway: reviewers find Molly as irresistible as we do. Can't blame 'em. Look at that face!