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My personal take is that a core function of theatre is to communicate, and the connection created between playwright and audience might be intellectual or on some other visceral level. Its all valid. Leaving the theatre, even if totally mystified, I often feel excited and look forward to having some quiet time to make my own sense out of what I have just seen. Other times, I simply dismiss the entire experience. If the bulk of most audiences fall in this latter case, then I believe the production has failed (and the root cause might not be the only the playwright) Its very hard to predict how an audience will respond; but two factors seem key. Dense, highly symbolic, complicatedly constructed theatre works well when the creators remember that the audience will likely see it only once. The audience does not have the option of rewinding, rereading or (in most cases) revisiting the work. This is an inherent limitation of theatre, and the Faustian trade-off of creating a live, immediate experience that is potentially very powerful. Rich, even ambiguous scripts are very satisfying to work with, but ultimately, not all details can be emphasized equally. Thanksgiving with one long-winded relative is enough to teach us all that. The other factor which is often ignored by contemporary arts creators is that most of the audience is, by definition, behind you in expertise. Artists are like the kids who practice piano 4 hours a day in comparison with the average school-age dabbler. They leave the others in the dust. Even dedicated theatre goers probably spend less than 10 hours a week involved in theatre, not 10 hours a day. More adventurous work needs some firm handles and a few familiar signposts to be effective. The tendency to create work that is primarily for the admiration of our peers (which in non-profit theatre is a tendency fostered by granting criteria) can also tend to make work beyond the appreciation of a wider public audiences. A production needs to be calibrated to match the intended audience.
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Jul 21, 2011