Scouring the various articles, blogs and financial reports of regional theaters around the country brings an important question to the forefront regarding the health of theater in America: Can adjacent theaters promote each others’ work without causing negative competition for themselves in the process?
Most of the discussion consists of a generally dry and uninteresting set of metrics that ultimately boils down to a simple fact: the live theater is no longer commercially viable in its current state of supply/demand. If you’d like to digest some of those statistical circumstances, here are some interesting articles that go over the details:
I, however, have no interest in re-hashing the numbers and continuing discourse about a model that no longer operates. Instead, let us go back to the impetus of storytelling in the first place: the need to commune and communicate. To use a personal anecdote, when VanguardRep began promoting our outdoor summer Shakespeare Festival, it became clear that a few of the nearby regional theaters were concerned that we would take away from their audiences (as they were hanging onto their subscription base by a thread as it was, doing their best to cover their ever-increasing overhead of a permanent space in a major metropolitan area). As understandable as the anxiety of competition is in a super-saturated market, I couldn’t help but think: isn’t it a question of demand, rather than supply? In a collaborative art like the live theater—which thrives on a personal connection with audience and fellow artists alike—shouldn’t our community not only be as tight as humanly possible, but also support each other during the most dire circumstances? Theater is incestuous and, if we’re being honest, a microcosm of itself in many ways, so where’s the support?
There are huge challenges facing theater in the United States. Our international reputation is poor. The government support isn’t enough to expand rehearsal processes and development, the economic models are archaic and the most powerful practitioners are not in touch with social media or the current pace of consumerism. However. We need the wisdom and experience of those running the American Theater for the last 40 years in order to do the best work. And they need to support the idealistic, passionate, communal and technologically savvy generation of theater artists rising and desperately needing the resources to change the models. The younger generation wants to do new work. The new generation wants to figure out how to use technology to connect the audience and bring them back to a live, performer/audience experience. The new generation wants to feel like the generations who paved the way want them around.
So…next time a young theater company shows up doing interesting, unique and innovative work—perhaps promoting them and genuinely wishing for their success will aid them in bringing in new audiences to the theater community at large. And, when that happens, we might be able to have a whole new discussion about how to cultivate a newly invigorated demand and not worry so much about the supply.
Los Angeles doesn’t know what to do as a theater community yet. Let’s make it cool to go to the theater by sending the audiences to each others plays. Yes, it might dent the numbers at first, but eventually people might remember the fact that it’s an unforgettable night of entertainment to experience what the live theater has to offer when it’s at its best.