Something we talk a lot about when we discuss theatre, specifically when devising amongst our ensemble, is trust. I believe it is one of the most important components of healthy collaboration, inside or outside of the theatre. This is because we have to believe that the people we are working with want the same things we want, and just as badly as we do.
But when I think about trust, and as a paranoid artist I think about it quite a bit, I think about the relationships in my life where the trust is key. My family, my roommate of five years, the CPT ensemble; all of which I believe hold me to an important, personal standard. We have laid a framework for our relationship around a core concept that both parties want the other to be as successful/happy (and yes I do use those interchangeably) as possible.
Then I thought about someone else I put a lot of faith in, my dentist, Dr. Dawoud; someone whom I trust to (ideally) only speak with me twice a year and help guide me towards good dental health. I also trust that when he recommends any sort of extra treatment beyond a standard cleaning that it is necessary, and not just him hoping to make an extra buck.
When I first met “Dr. D,” as I call him, in 2013, I was in the dental low point of my life, five years without seeing a dentist. Our first appointment was a standard cleaning and check up for a first time patient, as well as a consultation about the permanent crowns I would need on the two root canals I just had. The first thing I noticed about him as a dentist was that when he made small talk with you, he actually removed the tools from your mouth when he asked a question so you could respond with words instead of grunts. It was during this small talk that he complimented me, well really this random, one-time dentist I had just seen, on my root canals. He said that they were beautifully done, and on particularly hard areas to do that procedure in. Dr. D jokingly told me that he should be going to my guy because he was so good.
To which I responded, “Well of course he is. He a dentist after all, that’s not a career they let you guys do if you are bad at it.” I will never forget the blank stare that man gave me. He was bewildered, but more than that he was sad that he was going to have to shatter that illusion for me. He explained that there were all kinds of bad dentists out there, and not just bad ones, but terrible, dangerous ones.
This was a hard concept for me wrap my head around; I had grown up believing that doctors and dentists were careers reserved for the intellectual elite. That people can’t just walk into these positions, they have to deserve it. After all, these are people that are in place to help us, to care for us, to save us. How could that be your job and you are bad at it? Where is the trust?
As I thought about this, I began to realize that this lack of skill checking was probably not just limited to the medical industry; what if we were living in a world full of totally under qualified people? If so, what does that mean for me as a theatre maker? Does there need to be a dramaturgical equivalent to the bar MCATs?
And then I came back to the idea of trust in theatre, but not the trust between two collaborators trying to tell a different component of the same story, rather the trust between theatre companies and our audience. Our patrons put so much trust in us every time they buy a ticket. They know that there are all kinds of bad media out there in the world; it is safe to assume they have probably been to one of these horrible movies or boring plays in their life. But despite the knowledge that lots of plays still happen even though they shouldn’t, patrons still come to the theatre ready to believe in the magic behind the red curtain. This could be the story they hear that changes them as a person.
So what does this mean when we pay for $100 tickets to a show we can’t stand? Even $20? Since repeated patronage is the expression of trust in a theatre, I feel there is a clear responsibility of artists to our audience; do the best work possible.
People want entertainment, and trends have shown that they are more than willing to pay for it, so the request that it be worth the time and money it costs seems to me a reasonable one. As a young theatre maker, this is my inspiration when I sit down to work. I think about every time I walked out of a play or a movie and wondered how I had possibly been swindled out of the cost of my ticket. I think of Dr. D telling me about the world of dentists who actually make smiles worse. I think about all the people who walk through their lives or their careers doing just enough, being just okay, and I like to think maybe the world needs me to do my best. Maybe we are all waiting for the people around us to stand up and commit to not phoning things in, no matter how easy it would be.
It seems like a simple idea; every day you get up, you go to work and you do the absolute best you can for the time required. I still haven’t figured out how to do that every day. After rough nights, bad commutes, and shitty attitudes sometimes I have given up on a day before noon. Is it even possible to always do your best? Maybe not…but what if we all just tried? I think that is what trust is really about.