A Playwright Can Help You Engage Your Audience

Luis Valdez, American playwright was the keynote speaker at last week’s USITT Conference in Long Beach, CA. Luis has been in business for 47 years and is known for his play and film Zoot Suit and La Bamba. He is regarded as the father of Chicago Theater. His is a Cinderella story. He was born in a CA labor camp to migrant farm workers in 1940.

Creating a sense of theatre, story telling and place making is what we do as planners, designers and fabricators of experiences. Listening to Luis’ life lessons is inspiring. It encouraged a desire to engage audiences even more in our work. How do you engage your audience? We all want to have an impact on those we communicate with. This conference reminded often that how your audience feels is key to successful engagement.

Luis talked of a circle enveloping a square. The square is the rational side. The circle is the intuitive and feminine side. He circled back often in his life to fine deeper meaning. This circling back leads him all the way to his Mayan heritage. He mentioned the Holocaust of 500 years ago in America. He questioned how this heritage relates to modern day criminalization of Latinos and African Americans in our profit making prisons. This circling lead him to craft his plays. It gave him stories to tell. His stories are filled with passion.

A childhood teacher introduced theatre to him. Its impact on his life helped him become a better man. The passion and angst he felt about his past could be expressed anywhere there was a plank and an audience. He suggests that theatre:

• Happens in the audience.
• In a non-violent weapon.
• Is the language of the human spirit.
• Started around a campfire.
• Is a creator of community.

These are good reminders to implement with our audiences. As a life lesson he emphasizes that it is a constant negotiation of our past and present. He asked, to whom does the future belong? To those who can imagine it.