A recent controversy arose when playwright David Mamet threatened to fine Outvisable Theatre of Detroit in the event that talkbacks were held after performances of his play Oleanna. Such a measure by Mamet was heavyhanded, as is so much that Mamet does. It may also be self-defeating, in that such restrictions may dampen the enthusiasm of theatre companies interested in doing productions of Mamet’s work.
Nevertheless, talkbacks after theatre performances are a form of demagoguery. They come from the institution of play readings. Readings, which have been prevalent in recent decades, have had a mixed legacy. They were instituted for the purported purpose of improving plays, but they have most often weakened them, helping to remove what was most original about them. Contrary to making plays more producible, they have often had the effect of making them unworkable.
Usually it is not the most perceptive person in the audience who does the most talking. Often it is the least perceptive. This tends to shut down the critical responses of other people, which is particularly damaging in the theatre.
The theatre exists to make us think, and talkbacks actually have a chilling effect on the thinking that should follow a play’s performance. For people tend to accept the opinion of the fool who did the most talking, or otherwise refrain from looking into the matter further.
In our current society, we are encouraged to voice our opinions immediately. Little room is given for the listening, learning and reflection that should go into an opinion before it is expressed.
We would do better to institute the practice of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who had his students remain silent throughout their first year at his school.