Tag Archives: audiences

Woolly through an Intern’s Eyes

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has been around for about 30 years now, all under the guidance of beloved artistic director Howard Shalwitz.  His leadership has distinguished the theater as one of the longest lasting contemporary American theaters dedicated to producing some seriously provocative work.  As such, it was my immense pleasure to accept a seven-week internship here at the theater working in the Connectivity Department.  Woolly’s reputation is known far and wide, even reaching to the corners of Vermont, where I have spent the last year and a half in my cozy little liberal arts college.

My experience with Africa has been limited to a bleary-eyed 8am class about its democratization record (spoiler: not stellar).  Imagine my surprise and ultimately, my excitement, when I realized that my internship would essentially revolve around The Convert, a unique play simply by virtue of the fact that it is an African play written by an African woman about African people.  Wait, it gets better – not just a play about African people, but about an African woman. 

Through my work in the Connectivity Department here at Woolly, I have plunged into a deep, refreshing pool of diverse theatre.  The unfortunate reality of being a drama student (and this is anywhere) is that what is often filtered down are the classics—all important, yet all very white.   The unfortunate reality is that not very many stories on the stage have been told about black women – or African women for that matter.  Besides For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf, and a few notable others, I’m not sure I can think of many famous shows telling the stories of black women.  And when you broaden the racial scope, you find yourself with even less choices—Hispanic women (West Side Story doesn’t count)?  Asian women?  Arab women?

That’s why I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work at a theater that has the means and the resources to commit to new shows written by women and men who are striving to diversify contemporary theater.  It makes my job at Woolly even more daunting – while the playwrights are aiming to diversify the plays available, my department is essentially aiming to diversify the audience to match the play.

I hope I’ve done the task justice.

-Tenara Calem, Connectivity Intern


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Filed under Connectivity, Intern Take Over!, The Convert

What’s Your Roots? What’s Your Revolution?

At Pay What You Can Night for The Convert, we asked our audiences what their roots are and what their revolution is. Here’s what they had to say:

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318121_10152578209670543_207590569_n 318199_10152578210170543_1467913841_n 487193_10152578209690543_1766802089_n 524589_10152578209885543_500690783_n 525415_10152578209900543_488937766_n 553343_10152578209300543_140456042_n 559812_10152578210060543_1072608145_n 575006_10152578209390543_2032579274_n 577160_10152578209490543_1367299036_n 581839_10152578209895543_1344616355_n 599022_10152578210035543_1357839532_n 599073_10152578208945543_1092558660_n 601519_10152578209430543_1512965167_n 734844_10152578209250543_1197638359_n


How about you? What are your roots? What is your revolution?

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Filed under Connectivity, The Convert

Kurova Guva, a ceremony to welcome home the spirit of the dead, Part II

After death, the spirit is wandering, perhaps waiting and listening for a call to come home.  When our tears have been cleansed by a season of rain and rebirth we prepare to welcome home the spirit of our loved one. 

For the Shona people family duties do not end when we die.  As ancestors, we must provide protection, help resolve issues, and avenge our deaths if they were unjust.  Leaving the physical body allows the spirit to hear and see; moreover, our deceased are in a good position to give us guidance and protection.  In order to fulfill these duties, we must be present with our families. So an important part of our culture is the ceremony to bring home the spirits of our dead.  The ceremony has to take place after a rainy season.  If there is a drought the ceremony is delayed.  There is also a practical reason for waiting for the rain.  The soil over the rain may be displaced or sink in after the first heavy rain so the grave must weather a full rainy season before the tombstone or stone covering can be put permanently on the grave.

 There are no charms, ill wishes or witches fiercer than a mother’s love.  So she is the one seated, all that is needed to ensure the spirit’s safe return.  Before birth, our mothers wait, holding us safe in their wombs. We begin this ceremony, imitating life, with a woman, once again, guarding a gourd.  For seven days our mothers patiently sit and wait for the ceremonial beer to brew.  

If the mother of the deceased is alive, she sits with the gourds or drums of beer for the week or two preceding the ceremony in a small hut built solely for this purpose.  If the mother is not present a post-menopausal maternal aunt or cousin assumes this role.

On the seventh night we, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, children, nieces, and nephews call the spirit home through clapping, drumming, playing of the mbira, and dancing to bring our loved one back home, awakening the night with music played for spirit ears.  

Sometimes a cow is slaughtered the night before in honor of the dead and to provide meat for all who are gathered.

The brothers sing, “Our wives have risen with the sun to clear your grave.  We have compensated them with beer and money and now all is as it should be your way is also clear.  We call on our great aunts and grandfathers to guide you home.   If there was anger between us we will kill a goat in the name of that anger, and share it in peace.  Come and drink with us. All will be as it should be now that you are home.”

After the grave is cleared of all debris by women who have married into the family, gourds of beer are brought to the grave by the man’s closest friend and a nephew.  They may slaughter a goat or some chickens on the grave as well.  The beer is shared by the living and what is left is poured over the grave.  One gourd of beer is saved solely for the deceased.  After pouring the beer on the grave, the gourds and smashed and the shards are left on the grave and the spirit is home.

“We have shared your earthly goods and your wife has leapt over your weapons and proved herself honorable.  To her chosen one she will bring water.  All is as it should be; we now wait to hear who will carry your voice.”   

At the end of the ceremony the possessions of the deceased, including land and clothing, are shared amongst his family members.  His wife is supposed to stay celibate until this ceremony is complete and she jumps over her late husband’s knobkerrie or ax to prove that she has nothing to hide.  The widow also decides at that point if she wants to marry one of her husband’s brothers.  She signifies her choice by placing a bowl of water in front of one of the brothers.  If she does not wish to re-marry into the family she can place the bowl in front of her own son, or her husband’s sister.  The deceased’s oldest son may at this point be given his father’s name as the head of the family and may also become his svikiro (spirit medium).

-Mavhu F. W. Hargrove

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Filed under Connectivity, The Convert

Kurova Guva, a ceremony to welcome home the spirit of the dead, Part I

I have yet to attend a kurova guva ceremony.  Researching and writing this reminded me of my first visit to my grandmother’s village after my grandfather’s death.  I was home for my wedding.  My soon to be husband and I were driven to the village by my aunt.  Soon after arriving, my aunt went into the house and my grandmother, temporarily out of view of her very Christian daughter, pulled me from admiring her lemon tree to the graves which were at the other end of the garden.

I had never paid much attention to the graves, I knew I was related to the people buried there, but most of them had died before I was born.  My grandmother gave me some pebbles and made me kneel at the head of one of the newer graves; I knew it was my grandfather’s.  She instructed me to throw one pebble on his grave.  I did.

Now, tell him who you are she said, annoyed as if I should know what I was doing.

I was quiet not wanting to say the wrong thing and also feeling a bit silly talking to a grave. She hissed at me and pointed at the grave,

“Say, Sekuru, it’s your granddaughter here, Mavhu.  I came to see where you were buried and I have also brought my new husband.”

She nodded for me to throw the second pebble and try again.  As soon as I said his name, Sekuru, everything that he was came back to me.  His grey knitted vests under his jacket, the small black feather with white spots tucked into the band of his hat, the way his laughter went breathy and noiseless when he was really amused.  Right then the word ancestor was not distant or even separate from me.  The five minute ritual prescribed by my grandmother gave him back to me.  He was my grandfather, my mother’s father.  For the first time I think I really understood the importance of Shona people’s relationships to their ancestors.  Because he was, I am.  Our family was central to all that we did and were not divided by death.

The struggle between our own cosmology and a foreign religion began long before I was born.  Like other Africans on the continent and in those taken into the Diaspora, we found ways to hide some of our most important rituals in Christianity.  A goat is always slaughtered at a wedding but we say it is to feed those gathered; there is supposedly no spiritual significance.  The Mbende dance performed by young men and women at the full moon celebrating fertility and family was renamed Jerusarema (Jerusalem) so it could continue to be performed in the open.  The kurova guva ritual performed a year after death became the unveiling of the tombstone or memorial ceremony.   Some Zimbabwean families celebrate the Christian version of our ceremonies; some still practice the traditional.  We don’t seem to disagree that we should somehow honor or acknowledge our own customs but I suspect most families, like mine, are constantly divided over what should be done and how.

-Mavhu F. W. Hargrove

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Filed under Connectivity, The Convert

What Our Audience Had to Say: Mini-Survey Results

For the past two productions this year, Woolly’s engaged in some evaluative dialogue with its community as part of two separate but linked processes. The first, and more intensive, is the Intrinsic Impact project commissioned from WolfBrown by Theatre Bay Area. Woolly is one of 18 theatres across the country participating in this study, seeking to measure and understand the impact or effect of live performance on the people who watch it (the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and social impacts). Results will be available come summer.

The second, more compact, is through Woolly’s work in the EMCArts Innovation Lab evolving our thinking of the new area “Connectivity.” This “Audience Mini-Survey” correlates with its bigger sibling, the Intrinsic Impact Survey, but is being used to explore the impact of the performance depending on the composition of the audience. (See we are experimenting with “audience design”—an approach to cultivating new audiences linked to the artistic design of the show that acknowledges that who is in the house is equally important to the success of the production in performance as the lights or sound.)

Woolly invited six audiences for both Oedipus el Rey and The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs to complete the survey. The questions were identical save an addition we made with Steve Jobs: we learned after Oedipus el Rey that we wanted to know if the responder was a single ticket buyer (STB) or subscriber (SUBS) and how long they had been a part of the Woolly community.

We asked to rate on a sale of 1 – 5:

1. Overall how strong was your emotional response to the performance?

2. How much did you feel a sense of connection to others in the audience?

3. Are any of the scenes or lines from the performance still bouncing around in your head?

4. Was the audience filled with a cross-section of different people?

Then we asked:

5. Circle the phrase that most closely describes the relationship between the audience and the art and artists at this performance: distanced investigation; explosive engagement; passive observation; direct confrontation; standard interaction.

6. After answering the above, if there is an additional word or phrase that even more accurately describes your perception of this relationship, please write it here:…..

We are still sifting through the Audience Mini-Survey responses in house and will be comparing these first two shows’ surveys with the ones we receive from Bootycandy. But we wanted to share a few findings with you.

  • 453 people completed the Oedipus el Rey mini-survey (42% response rate); 564 for Steve Jobs (38% response rate). Steve Jobs responses came 67% from STB and 23% from SUBS. Something to note: we surveyed Saturday matinees which are lightly subscribed shows, but where we are experimenting with designed audiences, so we believe this explains the lower SUBS percentage. 40% of STB responders identified as having been with the Woolly community for 0 years (!) while over 50% of SUBS have been with Woolly 1 – 4 years.
  • Respondents gave overall a slightly higher rating of their emotional response to Steve Jobs than Oedipus (4.5 and 4 respectively on a 1 – 5 scale) and about the same for lines bouncing around in the head after the show.
  • For Oedipus, in which our audience design efforts yielded more observable racially diverse audience composition, respondents overall gave a higher rating (3.5 for Oedipus, and 2.9 for Steve Jobs).
  • How would audiences describe Oedipus el Rey? They were torn. 27% noted “explosive engagement” was how they would describe the relationship between the audience and the art and artists and 26% noted “direct confrontation.”  For Steve Jobs: 51% said “explosive engagement.”
  • Additional words to describe audience relationship prompted many responses.  A nibble from both shows:
    • Oedipus el Rey included: cautious engagement; magnetic engagement; fascinated engagement; immersion; I think people were very interested and paying attention, absorbed in the play; so close, uncomfortable in a good way; penetrating; that shit was powerful; been there; culture conflict and religious threat.
    • Steve Jobs included: Mind-blowing, powerful, direct; Induced shame; a new form of journalism/anthropology in theatre form; passionately familial; pulled in with comedy; “What’s with all the screaming?”; empathetic agreement; art = revolution; insidious humor (and that is a compliment)

And this is just a taste. You can find the result of the Oedipus surveys here and the Steve Jobs surveys here. We will be posting files of all the collected survey data after the close of Bootycandy and asking you to draw conclusions with us. (Internally, we are already wrestling with potential lessons to learn from this about everything from show selection to seating configurations.) If you want to learn or talk more about this, please don’t hesitate to contact me by phone or email.

Lest I close without saying so: THANK YOU! Your investment in Woolly and willingness to speak your truth about your experience at the theatre is humbling. I know I am personally thankful to be a part of such an exciting, connected community.

~ Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director

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Filed under Connectivity, Oedipus el Rey, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

More on our Mammoth Forums

One of the guest speakers at the final Mammoth Forum for Oedipus el Rey was Wilbert Avila, a former program participant with the Free Minds Bookclub & Writing Workshop. Mr. Avila reflected openly at the start of the Forum about his experience in prison and how the production, and the character of Oedipus, connected with him. Then at the end of his remarks, Mr. Avila referenced a poem he wrote that  incorporated eye-imagery, which Oedipus reminded him of.  He was kind enough to share the poem with us, and we wanted to share it with you as a coda to the production.

My Eyes

By Wilbert Avila

Mis ojos have suffered!
Each have seen the death of a brother
They saw anguish in his last breath
Mis ojos shed a tear, they didn’t pass the test.

Mis ojos have seen rejection!
Family turning there shoulders no exception
Society considered me a lost cause
My reaction to rejection, find a new family, new love, was that my fault.

Mis ojos have seen hate.
A young soul lost in hells gates
Hate is looking in the mirror
No mercy for me, no mercy for them, my hearts love and affection cut
to peices by Gods scissors

Mis ojos have seen a new therapeutic god
But he deceived me, his name was alcohol
He eased my mind but only for a instant
Under his influence I couldnt make the right decision

Mis ojos tells you a story
Deep down inside I want to say I’m sorry
But not to show fear, not even to blink
My emotions I bear hug and let them sink

Mis ojos have smears of yellow
Insomnia and suicide all because of sorrow
In chains one behind the other
Walking with silence death we follow

Mis ojos want to go blind
They don’t want to see me waisting time
I don’t want to see pity
I don’t want to see the false preacher preach

Mis ojos I shut
I see my dreams dissolve like dust
I see my future if I didnt get a second chance

~ Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director

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Of Love and Social Media

Last fall I watched as my mentor Alli Houseworth, Director of Marketing and Communications made a bet with Tim Plant, former Director of Development that she could raise $1,937 (the number of Facebook fans we had) in a mere week and a half using social media alone (Click here to read about it). There were doubts. Who knows what social media sites are really good for, aside from a distraction at work, stalking your kids, or posting hilarious photos of kittens on the walls of those friends from college you probably wouldn’t remember in five years anyway (well, it WAS college). As many of you know, she won that bet. In fact, she demolished that bet, and Tim was forced to admit that social media was useful for more than the aforementioned things via a rather embarrassing curtain speech in which he wore a shirt declaring his love for social media, and of course, we made him join Twitter.

Since that fateful day, we have become vociferous in our thirst to know what else social media can do for us. We’ve discovered non-subscribers who have been faithful for years, we’ve found fans from around the country, we’ve had contests, we’ve…demanded a lot of attention. For our current show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, we’ve even managed to construct an “Apple Orchard” in the lower lobby that consists of old Apple products collected in part by a response to a call-to-action we put on our Facebook and Twitter pages. So why do those of you who don’t buy into the whole social media care about all this? Because throughout it all, no matter how you spin it, our social media efforts come down to one, basic, pure thing: a conversation with our audience. Woolly isn’t satisfied just putting work out there that we find explosive, engaging, and thought-provoking, we’ve moved on from just that. We want, we NEED to know what YOU are thinking, and how you feel about our work. So, as a dedication to all of you, here are some responses we’ve received from the show via Twitter and Facebook:

–          @david_fabian: SM movies make u want to smoke a cigarette. Mike Daisey’s Agony & the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs made me want to use an iPad @woollymammothtc

–          @delitzer: Won’t ever look at my iPhone the same way again. RT @BeccaClaraLove: “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” at @woollymammothtc. So good!

–          @LinsdaySWeldon: I’m not even a tech geek, but The Agony & Ecstasy of Steve Jobs @woollymammothtc is still one of the BEST shows I’ve ever seen.

–          @actorkathryn: @woollymammothtc – The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs = AMAZING. Great work, Team Woolly…

–          @joeyonan: Woke up still ruminating on last night’s #AgonyandEcstasyofSteveJobs. Stunning, hilarious, profound theater. @woollymammothtc

–          Sarah Fox Chapman: Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was outstanding. It was humorous and sad and thought provoking.

–          Mary Akiyama Guarino Kearns: Mike Daisey’s performance last night was outstanding. I’ve been an Apple fan my entire life, but haven’t bought any new technology since the FoxConn suicides were publicized. However, Daisey’s monologue brought new depth to my understanding of the problems inherent in the way our tech products are manufactured, and gave me much food for thought regarding what I can do to help change things for the better.

If you’d like to join in the conversation (and we want you to!) but don’t necessarily Facebook or Tweet, please send us an email at discussion@woollymammoth.net. After all, we Woolly-ites need your input to prevent extinction!

~Katie Boyles, Marketing and Communications Assistant

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Filed under Marketing, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs