I was just thinking about the differences between various creators of art.

When I musical is starting out, I know that the creators watch for audience reactions, and they will tweak and cut and add and change … even to a point where the final product is pretty darn different. When a movie is made, they do this thing with audiences; they have them preview them (sometimes even with ending choices) and they tweak and change and satisfy an audience. Composers of “classical” music? I know they might tweak, but I don’t know that they take the audience response too terribly seriously. A visual artist? Do they care about “audience” reaction?

I’m sure others have thought about this a lot. It’s just hitting me, how some things have to be altered to satisfy the crowds, while other things are what they are and the viewer/listener can take it or leave it.

So does a director of a film, or a composer of a musical, feel as if his or her heart is cut out when then have to change what they thought of as wonderful to satisfy the average joe? Do they feel dishonest? Do they feel as if they’ve sold out?

How much should a creator cater to the (paying) people? Does it all come down to money? Survival?

Just thinking out loud here. I’m not even ready to say what I think, since I’m not sure that I know what I think!

I’m not even sure I think!


  1. As far as classical music, I’m an inveterate post-premiere reviser, but I can’t say that audience reaction has much to do with it in most cases.

    As for musicals and movies, it’s tricky to answer without the benefit of some kind of chart. You’ve got two disciplines: musicals (let’s say plays in general) and movies. Then you’ve got any number of reasons for making changes after seeing audience reactions.

    Yes, in the case of Hollywood films and Broadway musicals, I’m sure there is a high degree of catering to perceived audience tastes for financial. But in non-commercial theater (and maybe certain film genres), you still need to put things in front of an audience to see if they “work”.

    Does the audience “get” this scene? Is it clear to them why Sarah moves the salt shaker in Act I? Is this song really contributing anything to the characters, or just taking up time? Is that song’s tempo to fast for the actor to be able to get the words over the footlights?

    Lots of questions an audience can help with that have nothing to do with pandering to their tastes.

    But to your actual question, I think most professionals can accept that changes are necessary sometimes and move on. It’s part of the process.

  2. Do you think, Michael, that an audience should have as much say in, for instance, a symphony? A painting?

    If not, what is the difference, do you think?

    Just pondering!

  3. No, I don’t, but I never said the audience should have a “say”. My point was that in theater you can use preview audiences to detect whether your piece is meeting its dramatic goals.

    I think you’re misinterpreting the theatrical preview/workshop process as being about pleasing or satisfying the audience. It’s not. It’s about making sure the audience understands what you’re trying to do, whether they like it or not. (Or, at least, it should be about that.)

    As for the symphony/painting question, you’ll get a different answer from every artist, as they consider the audience to varying degrees, but I don’t think it’s even feasible to incorporate audience feedback in a symphony or a painting.

    Personally, as a composer I do give the listener the utmost consideration in the sense that the whole point of what I do is communication. None of that “I write for myself” nonsense for me. Of course I want the audience to like my work, but since audiences are made up of individuals, I have no expectation that any audience would unanimously like it. So, to be more realistic, I’m more concerned with “having an effect on” an audience than “pleasing” them.

    Trying to please everyone is a sucker’s game. It would be nice if the film studios would realize that, but they’re too busy making money hand over fist.

  4. I remember talking to an orchestrator of one of my favorite musical theatre composers (betcha know who that composer is!) and it was really fascinating to hear about how they would watch audiences during those early runs of shows. I guess that doesn’t mean an audience is having a “say” (sorry to use that word). But folks who put on shows obviously prefer to satisfy those people who pay to see shows. At least I think so.

    I’m only rambling … I know nothing about this whole side of the biz!

    I worked with that same orchestrator on a failed musical up in SF some years ago. I loved the show from the pit, but it was crucified by the reviewers and I did see someone asleep in the front row of the theatre every show. I remember that said orchestrator told me the show would never make it. He knew what he saw. I kept thinking, “But I like it! How come other folks don’t?” Obviously my pit’s eye view was entirely wrong, as the show never went anywhere.

    I’m just happy to be where I am; I don’t create. I only interpret. Even so, a harsh review cuts to the quick.

    Then again, I can always blame the reed. 😉

  5. Of course, that’s it! Critics! That’s whom we’re writing for. Forget what I said earlier.

    (Oh, and I know what orchestrator you’re talking about. A god to me. I’ll bug you about that offline ;))

  6. Well, I did hassle your god for writing doubling books most of the time; I want the straight oboe/English horn book … so, of course, I can play! (I’m no doubler. Sigh.)

    I sure don’t play for critics. But I do experience the cut of a harsh review. Even though I know I shouldn’t.