do you remember the last aftertalk you truly enjoyed? Which offered you more than what the piece is actually about? More than an insight into contexts? Do you remember the last artist talk that inspired you? That made you laugh? Where you felt invited to join the conversation instead of only listening, quietly in the dark, nipping on your glass of wine? Where you enjoyed an exchange of thoughts and intuitions and didn’t feel incompetent or intimidated to raise your voice and express your opinions? Perhaps you were moved or bemused by a thought that was shared out loud by your fellow audience member who is usually overvoiced by someone more skilled in taking up space?
do you remember the last aftertalk you truly enjoyed? A conversation that was more than a back and forth of questions and answers? A conversation, where you weren’t simply repeating the well rehearsed pitch on the topic and the meaning of your work? A dialogue where you would also get to know your audience? That gave you an insight about their desires and resentments? Maybe even a conversation that made you reconsider previous assumptions about your work and its perception?
Dear everyone who feels should be a part of post-performance conversations,
as you might have already guessed, we are not fans of formal aftertalks. We understand the desire to contextualize, to their-her-historicize, to open a discursive frame – but isn’t there more to do than to educate and cultivate the audience (or of those who actually stay for the conversation) by an expert?
We feel the need to reconsider the aesthetics and mechanisms of people talking together, where conversation is not just understood as a rational and informative exchange. To build bridges and understandings between art and its perception in a specific context we want to propose an aftertalk away from expert debate – as an exchange of blissful moments of free thinking, a flow of loose observations and associations that eventually unfold into streams of ideas while they also welcome digressions and pauses. An attempt to rethink how we can reinvent a space that embraces all voices and disrupts the dichotomy between expertises and the passive presence of the audience. Don’t get us wrong: we love to get informed about the their-her-history of your movement practice; about your theoretical background;about the core concept of your show; about your future plans. But we also like to hear about and share weird details that no one noticed and that are not usually unheard of during these encounters: the production mechanisms behind the curtain; dreams, failures and struggles; salaries and rehearsal time; the ways institutions support you (or don’t support you – if you dare to share); the movement material and how it has transformed your body and its habits; the phases that you followed to reach the final version of what we experienced on stage; the contribution of all the collaborators, your modes of working together; the concerns and the viewpoints of all the active agents; but first – and foremost: we love to converse with and to be moved by – all of – you.
So, here are some thoughts and practices about involving the audience and comforting the artists as well as about involving the artists and comforting the audience. Our common reflection upon the above topics and following strategies intensified and rose at the Kondenz Festival of contemporary dance and performance in Belgrade (October 23-30, 2022), where for the first time we exercised some of them as a group while facilitating the aftertalks. What a pleasure it was!
Before going further, let’s first take a little detour via Maurice Blanchot’s idea of a conversation as a plurality and most importantly as an interruption, as he describes it in The Infinite Conversation:
„The definition of conversation (that is, the most simple description of the most simple conversation) might be the following: when two people speak together, they speak not together, but each in turn: one says something, then stops, the other something else (or the same thing), then stops. The coherent discourse they carry on is composed of sequences that are interrupted when the conversation moves from partner to partner, even if adjustments are made so that they correspond to one another. The fact that speech needs to pass from one interlocutor to another in order to be confirmed, contradicted, or developed shows the necessity of interval. The power of speaking interrupts itself, and this interruption plays a role that appears to be minor—precisely the role of a subordinated alteration. This role, nonetheless, is so enigmatic that it can be interpreted as bearing the very enigma of language: pause between sentences, pause from one interlocutor to another, and pause of attention, the hearing that doubles the force of locution.”
And let’s pause here for a moment – and indulge into this idea of conversation as interruption, as silence.
How to start?
Preparation for an aftertalk should first concern the context where it takes place, the spatial and technical conditions available. Have a look in and around the venue, take into consideration the scale of the production and the audience, and mark the spot(s) where it is possible to host the session. Assure that comfort and preferences of the artist(s) are guiding the choice of the format and/or the location. It is of course totally fine to propose several options but no need to push for something that might be uncomfortable in the context of receiving feedback about one’s work.
Obviously, watching the video documentation of the work, reading the text accompanying the show, and checking out the profile of the artist(s), are all recommended for the moderator(s). Also, a kind gesture is to invite all the collaborators to be present, those that were on stage and those behind. It is often the case that the aftertalk happens soon after the performance and finds the performers in a somewhat spaced out, adrenaline driven or simply tired state, or maybe it is not a common place that they have experienced a situation like this before. Therefore, it’s good to have these conditions in mind while thinking of the aftertalk as a form of a critical aftercare. To generate a shared space for coming closer, to soften the evaluation of what was performed for us and with us.
How to critically aftercare?
1. Classical aftertalk
This type of an aftertalk works well when the artist(s) and moderator(s) sit facing the audience, it is perhaps the most popular way of aftertalking. After a short introduction to the talk (you can mention the institutional frame, who you are, how long the talk will take and what is the structure) and introduction of artist(s), a few opening questions from the moderator(s) are proposed.
However, in our aftertalks we also sometimes started by opening the floor to the audience at the beginning to see if there were any urgent questions from which we could pick up our conversation. With this action we wanted to communicate to them that their engagement is wished for and not only a section often squished at the end when the moderator(s) have finished their score. In this way, the often predictable dramaturgy of a moderated classical aftertalk is shifted and subjected to the dramaturgy of the affective experience of the public which might form the entry point. If there’s no urgent questions nor reflections on the audience part, maybe there is a sense of urgency in the artist(s) themselves? They might have a certain perspective, moment or an experience from the live presentation that they would like to share, a certain curiosity directed towards the audience… There are innumerable ways of starting this, but we recommend starting slow, letting the space warm up, allowing the artist to contextualize their work and see how it resonates with the experiences articulated by the moderator(s) or the audience.
The role of the moderator(s) is primarily about hosting a situation of sharing and taking care that everyone who wants, can speak. The facilitation of such an aftertalk requires a non-judgemental attitude, listening to the room and trying to choreograph the flows of thoughts and impressions. The outcome is ideally valuable to both artist(s) and the audience and has a reasonable duration that doesn’t exhaust the artist(s) who just performed and the audience that wants to go home or have a drink.
2. Game of Questions / Popcorn
This is a more playful way of sharing impressions after the performance and its roots can be traced among dramaturgical strategies of multiplying questions in order to nourish the process of developing the piece (a tip for you, dear Dramaturgs!). We propose it as a strategy to obtain from the coercion and burden of knowing and to open up the space of not knowing. And believe us or not, but not knowing can be equally – if not more – fruitful. This game works best in a circle formation, either sitting on chairs or floor, both or however else. To start off a game, naturally an introduction to the rules is needed:
1. A session should not take less than 30 minutes.
2. The main rule is that we are only asking questions.
3. Everyone can ask questions – the artist(s), the audience, and the facilitators.
4. The questions should be open so that you can not answer them with yes or no.
5. The questions should not be directed to any particular person but to everyone and no one at the same time.
6. After dropping the first question, someone should answer it by shaping their answer as a question.
7. There is no order of answering. It is a popcorn structure – who wants to answer (with a question!), answers. Questions should pop up as they like! Though…
8. …listening to each other is as important as posing the next question. Each question you throw in should be in relation with the question asked by the person before you. It shouldn’t pop up from nowhere cause the chain of this beautiful common brainstorming might be broken. However: breaking the chain of thoughts is an option when you sense a radical shift into the stream of questions is necessary. Dare to intervene, dare to reshuffle the conversation.
9. The artist(s) are welcome to take notes.
10. Variant a: the whole structure contains only questions (which of course are also answers) and after the intended time ends, we stay with the questions each on their own.
Variant b: after closing the questions round, the artist(s) answer a few questions of their choice.
The role of the moderator(s) is, as with the classical type, taking care of the space and flow of the sharing event, but here also in a soft supervision to assure that people stick to the rules 🙂 If, for example, a question that is not in fact a question is posed, or if it is observed that questions are continually breaking the chain, we can ask the questionist to rephrase their proposal or take a moment of pause to re-explain the rules. In some cases, based on case-by-case consideration, perhaps when the audience is either very shy or completely new to either performance type or aftertalks, the moderator(s) can also start the game with a few pre-prepared sequences so it’s easier to imagine what the format looks like.
– How does it feel to move like water?
– How does the type of water’s movement (waterfall, stream, drop) influence the movement?
– How does it feel to be still water?
3. Retrospective Improvisation
(From Audience and Stage. Communication Formats for the Independent Performing Arts by Performing Art Programm Berlin https://pap-berlin.de/sites/default/files/2022-02/200616A_Theaterscouting_Handbuch_Ansicht%2BISBN_0.pdf)
This takes the aftertalk fun to a next level. Ready for some role playing?
It requires some chairs and wigs but our intuition tells us that it could be interesting to allow the audience members to use the scenography from the show (if there’s any) or to wander in the space where the show just took place. In that improvisational game the audience takes the role of the performers/makers of the show and answers questions from the other audience members and artist(s) themselves. The answering players rotate during the aftertalk. The wigs, or whatever other attributes that assign a player to a particular role, make the play fun and enable everyone to take another perspective through embodying the other for a moment. Looking retrospectively at what happened on stage and trying to imagine and propose ways of narrating the choreography, the rehearsal process and the intentions of the makers should be free of judgement and of the fear of being wrong. The play invites us to let go and to drift away from the potential holiness of an artistic proposal. Hopefully this feels nurturing to the artist(s) as well.
The moderator(s) role is in explaining the rules of the game and assuring comfort of the participants. Some cheering, encouragement and genuine appreciation for the players are essential components of the game.
4. Power of Plausch (Eng. Chit-Chat)
(From Perceptions. Experimental Communication Formats, Discussions and Observations from the Independent Performing Arts by Performing Art Programm Berlin https://pap-berlin.de/sites/default/files/2022-11/Publikation_Wahrnehmungen.pdf)
Were you perhaps dreaming of some aftertalking in the theatre kitchen – sharing impressions over a glass of chardonnay and a hot plate of pasta that you just cooked with a bunch of strangers? We have a format for you! Conceptualized and scripted by FLUGWERK (Katharina Leonore Goebel, Lea-Maria Kneisel, Leoni Grützmacher, Birte Sonnenberg, Sophie Krause, Elena Liesenfeld) it invites the audience to a full sensorial experience, activating a gut feeling and creating plenty of opportunities for the informal chattering (about the performance or something else). This format invites the audience members, staff of the performance and artist(s) for the post-performance kitchen conversation.
As it is certainly more demanding on the side of the organisers, below we list a few tasks and conditions that need to be fulfilled:
- Kitchen equipped for cooking, with a sufficient amount of plates, cutlery, glasses and chairs + a table, ideally one that can fit in all participants of the after-cooking
- An easy recipe that can be tested before. It should include some amount of cutting, chopping, mixing, but nothing too fancy or too dangerous. The time spent on cooking should not be too long – the making of the food is only one part of the format.
- The process of cooking is divided into stations, a group is assigned to each (people in the group should not know each other if that is possible and comfortable since it puts a little spice on the whole situation). Stations are prepared beforehand – with required products and equipment as well as sticky notes on which spontaneous thoughts and questions are written down to incite conversations over chopping of tomatoes or pasta cooking. When the food is almost ready a table should be set up.
- Eating of the food completes the ceremony and it aims at generating a familial atmosphere for talking about the performance after some digestion has happened.
- After the meal the cleaning should be performed collectively.
The role of the moderator(s) here is not really about influencing much a direction of conversations – as there are perhaps many occurring at the same time – but to encourage some initial reflections and break the ice by the above mentioned sticky notes but also, if desired, with a fancy costume and a joke here and there. The moderator(s) together with other organisers of the diner takes care of the flow of the cooking procedure, safety and comfort of the participants. The participation should be free of charge and the opportunity for such an aftertalk should certainly be announced not only right before or after the show but in the PR material, due to its expanded format it may require some preparation or arrangements also on the side of the audience members.
Sharing is caring
Now you can choose one of the formats we provided and re-shared for you. Feel invited to adapt or to transform them into something new, to invent something else and share it with others. And remember: Have fun while facilitating the aftertalks!
 Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, ed. and trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 75.