Monday, December 15, 2008

So...What's Missing Here?

I was all away in my semi-sort-of-almost retirement, sitting by a pool in a tropical, non-extradition country, drinking fruity cocktails with umbrellas in them, when I read this. And it was enough to get my ass back on this fucking horse. So, go and read it. It's quite short. And then come back here and tell me what's missing. I can wait.

Did you see it?

Well, let's see. The audiences for straight plays are declining. But it's not the ticket prices. Or the options. Or a lack of theatre companies. (Though, I'm sure there are folks who can argue that this particular study is wrong there.) Jeez, golly, willikers, I just gosh darn it can't imagine what other factor could be keeping people from going to plays. Aw, shucks.

This little article mentions three well-received, award-winning productions currently running on Broadway. Two revivals and one transfer from a regional theatre, a play about nasty, white upper middle class Midwestern folk. Huh. Yeah, I almost had it...and then I lost it. Slipped right through my fingertips.

I couldn't possibly be...there's no earthly way it could be...might it just be...the PLAYS? Surely you jest.

No, really, all sarcasm aside, theatre artists really do need to some soul-searching about what we're doing, why we're doing it and who we're doing it for. Yes, the audiences are dwindling. We all know that. We've all known that. Yes, we face competition from all kinds of medium. But that ain't it. The audiences for musicals are going up and frankly, you can see why. Broadway is crass, it's commercial, it's disgusting, but you know what? It knows its audience, it knows how to find its audience and it goes after 'em.

People do still love and crave live performance. But they want it to mean something to their lives. They want it to connect to them, invite them in. It doesn't have to talk down to them, or pander to entertain and enlighten. But it has to connect.

Studies and articles like this always set off orgies of meetings and symposia and jibber jabber sessions that, inevitably, descend directly into marketing meetings. That's the solution. It's the marketing. We need better branding, nicer posters, a better website. It should have movies on it, and a blog. We need street teams spray painting our logo on things in cool parts of town. People should think that we're not a theatre, that we're a club or a rave. Do kids still go to raves? This is the line of thinking. Because no one wants to ask the hard question: what are we doing? Why don't people like what we're doing? Because we're not going to like the answer.

I've been sucked in, slightly against my will, into just that kind of discussion, about a theatre's website re-design. The buzzwords are flying fast and furious: interactivity, Facebook-connectivity, blah blah blah. It's all fine, great, grand. I have nothing against a prettier website, a slicker interface. But the question of content...hasn't come up. The idea of who we're trying to attract into the theatre and then, most importantly, what are they going to find when they get there, this is the last part of the discussion. And people wonder why I might have gotten a bit burned out on this world.

These are the wake-up calls, folks. The canaries are singing their hearts out and rather than digging our way out, we're making the mineshaft a little more comfortable, resigned to the cave-in (yeah, yeah, I know that canaries don't warn against cave-ins, but I'm rolling).

We gotta start having the hard talks.


Anonymous said...

This post is disgustingly awesome.

Welcome back.

Now go and help somebody.

People need you.

Sarah McL said...

Oh! My god! Bloglines didn't send me this post until today.

First of all, that NEA report is dumb. Theatrefacts is way better researched and reported. "Between 1990 and 2005, nonprofit theater revenues fluctuated sharply with business cycles and in the U.S. economy." AAAAMAZING.

Second, yes! It's the content! In the middle of everybody's hand-wringing and freaking out, Les Freres Corbusier quietly sold out their run of Dance Dance Revolution, and Sleepwalk With Me extended its run. American Buffalo arrived DOA, and Les Freres sold out their run. I know the size is totally different, but I think there's a lot going on there.

Anonymous said...

You're ignoring the simple fact the DDR was crap.