Friday, February 05, 2010

Jay Adams on the Death of Theatre

(h/t Ghost Light): I have nothing to add, except to say this: read a chapter from Outrageous Fortune, then read this, and then tell me what is wrong with the theatre.


ukejackson said...

I have yet to read OF but I did read that statement. The problem and solution are quite simple to identify. Ticket prices are too high. Theater can't compete with movies, for starters, and doesn't even try.

How can prices be lower and theater still survive? That's really the question.

Scott Walters said...

Boy, Uke, I wish I thought it was that easy, but I don't. Young people, for instance, don't seem to care if the price is the same as movies or not -- they're not interested.

No, the contrast I saw between the two is that Jay Adams asks the artist to consider what the audience NEEDS, whereas Outrageous Fortune is all about what the artist needs. If there was one huge disconnect, it is the idea that artists believe that the theatre is all about THEM, whereas Adams suggests it is all about the audience.

ukejackson said...

Jay Adams even mentions not going across town to spend $50 for a show. $50?

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, if we're talking about young people).

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.

Scott Walters said...

Uke -- NOW we're on the same page. But I'll say one thing: in my generation, parents weren't theatregoers, either -- grandparents were. And that is the same today. When you are raising kids, you don't have the time or the discretionary income to be taking kids to see expensive shows. It isn't until they've gone away and graduated from college that you start having some money left over -- and that's usually in your 50s and 60s. The idea that we need young people to replace the old audience members when they die is foolish -- the replacement come from middle age, not young.

ukejackson said...

Well, I don't necessarily disagree. However, the (surviving) grandparents I knew were ESL farmers. And while the middle age/discretionary income equation may be true, it begs the question about money and its lack being too much a part of the problem.

Here's an interesting take on what's going on with society in general regarding this:

It may be that there is no solution and that America's theater is going the way of its empire.