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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saving the theater?

I posted most of this as a comment on Scott Walters' Theater Ideas blog. I think it can stand on its own and am posting it here in case you miss it there:

I believe young people would be more interested in theater if they could walk up to the box office, plunk down $10 or $12 (same as a movie), and see a show.

Right now we're asking young people to drink the kool aid AND go broke to see a show they really know nothing about (in the case of new plays, and likely the classics, since we're talking about young people in America).

In order to compete with movies and other entertainment, of course, advertising budgets would have to be larger or some other means of getting folks' attention would have to be devised, like a circus parade or some other public spectacle announcing a show's existence.

The fact is that the people who are having children these days aren't theater goers. They can't afford the habit. So how can we expect their kids to grow up liking theater? It sometimes seems the only people who like theater are those working in it or planning to work in it (and that's a pose with manty of the latter group, as they see theater as the minor leagues leading to a real career in TV or film).

Meanwhile, we're asking young people to spend 10% of their monthly rent for a night at the theater. And don't tell me about the price of restaurant meals, please. These kids are eating fast food on the cheap when they go out.

A couple years ago, Broadway had the biggest grossing year in history. What was the response? Raise ticket prices and institute "premium pricing". That's greed and that's become the biz.

Right now there's a lot of fear out there in the entertainment biz. Record companies fear downloads. The movies fear streaming. Book publishers fear Kindle and other devices. TV fears the fractional-ization of the audience due to 500 (crappy) cable stations. All these fears are about money, profits.

So, what are theater people worried about? Well, according to the blogs I've read, there's a lot of concern that people aren't making a living as playwrights. Or enough new plays aren't getting done. This is some of the silliest blather I've ever read. Who ever told these people that they would make a living as playwrights?!? Have they never read a biography of a playwright? Were they so sheltered growing up and throughout the education process that they have no idea how to live the life of an artist?

So, get the capitalists/corporatists out of the theater. Make theater about something other than profit and cash flow in the real world.

Look at the photos of the Royal Deluxe street theater troupe some time. Look at the streets filled with people. Go see a folk play in Freisland (northern Holland) sometime, where entire towns turn out. Then tell me people don't hunger for theatrical spectacle. It's not that they don't want it. It's choosing between a new pair of shoes and a night out that bugs them.

Of course, getting the money out of the equation will be hard in country where investors expect to make a return on health insurance and Humana hospitals, and where war is a never-ending profit stream for the elite. Make life about something other than money and the theater will follow.

2 comments:

  1. Your last line is, to me, the key: "Make life about something other than money and the theater will follow." I also have a sneaking feeling that the money will follow, too, when you're not looking.

    "Look at the photos of the Royal Deluxe street theater troupe some time. Look at the streets filled with people. Go see a folk play in Freisland (northern Holland) sometime, where entire towns turn out. Then tell me people don't hunger for theatrical spectacle. It's not that they don't want it. It's choosing between a new pair of shoes and a night out that bugs them."

    I'm halfway there with you, but I also think that those groups have another thing going for them: a connection to the audience. Their work isn't a product to be sold, but an experience to be shared with people who know who they are (at least by reputation) and whose lives are reflected in the work.

    Outrageous Fortune reveals what I have always known: that artists think it is all about them and their "vision," they see it as a solo, whereas actually it is a duet with the audience, and we have to sing songs that resonate with them, and we have to let them sing too.

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  2. " . . . actually it is a duet with the audience, and we have to sing songs that resonate with them, and we have to let them sing too."

    As I suspected -- you, sir, are an interactivist;-)

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