Wednesday, June 10, 2009

But, Then On The Other Hand...

So, after taking a look at it through the lens of the AD, I put back on my theatre blogger hat and say a hearty WTF. If you didn't want to juggle that stuff, you know, don't become an artistic director. Like the man said, this is the business we've chosen. Pick your ass up and get to work.

And Isaac is right on: better marketing isn't working. Not even close. And you have to see that, artistic directors. You have to know that, managing directors. Lipstick on pigs, and we all saw how well that worked out.

There is an audience out there, a hungry, excited audience that is actually interested in live performance, in real engagement. And they're seeking it out in places where they can get it. Those places are not in your theatres. You're not doing the kind of work they want to see. They're not dumb, or easily fooled or pandered to. Not really. And they are reachable. Absolutely. You just have to give them more.

We hear the mantra of "education, education, education." It's as though we're ready to write off everyone between the ages of 22 and 45 as lost to us, a philistine generation of videoheads and thrill-seekers. You're not seeing them. cgeye in the comments thread above mentions sketch comedy. Here in NYC, we're seeing that big time. UCB is churning, humming along (by all appearances), doing relevant, interesting work, sometimes three shows a night, and staying connected to the mainstream culture. It's quick, it's fast and it's connected. It's not about turning all of your shows into improv sketch comedy, but look at their models, look at their ways of connecting to the audience. You don't need more robust e-mail lists. You need to give young people something to bring them in. And, will you listen, it's not just sex, hip-hop and drugs. You sound like Michael Steele when you do that. And these people aren't stupid. So don't treat them as such.

And don't treat them like just another consumer you want to sell your product to. The whole point of outreach shouldn't be "Well, we have to replace our old, boring, dying audience." It has to be about engagement and connection. You know, those things you say theatre does better than television. Except more people feel engaged in their television shows. You have to connect to them and their lives. Not some 45-year old's idea of a young person's life, but their actual life.

I'm not saying this will be easy. It won't be. We've done a pretty good job over the last twenty five years turning theatre into a backwater, regressive, backwards-looking art form. But it can be done. You do have help. Out here on the internets are dozens and dozens of people who want to help you, all over the world. We love theatre and we want it to thrive. We may talk dirty, say nasty things or tell you things you don't want to hear, but we love this thing. Take a listen. Or even better, join the conversation. Mostly? We know what we're talking about. And we're willing to learn about the things we don't know. This is an easy first step. Start talking to us.

Here endeth the lesson.


Philucifer said...

The problem is that institutions don't actually want younger audiences, they want younger versions of their older audiences -- with the same tastes, the same manners, and the same pocketbook.

In all of this, I continue to wonder why we're so worried about institutional theatre? Let them die out in 15 years. They've had a good run. But they're not doing any of the work I go see, and they're not interested in the work I do, but there's a nice big group that's showing up to our shows. So how does it all even affect me on any level that isn't abstract and hypothetical?

Adam said...

> The problem is that institutions don't actually want younger audiences, they want younger versions of their older audiences -- with the same tastes, the same manners, and the same pocketbook.


We have a winner.

Anonymous said...

Why do people keep referencing Improv theater? The Barrow Street does very well financially and their programming is theatre (well, I guess they do some improv too) and is incredibly exciting. It's a bit like "Chicago Off Broadway" but it brings people in. Here's what it does though:

1. Low tech- shows never have to elaborate of a design angle
2. constantly programmed (usually 2 or 3 things going on at once)
3. Shows the Producer Scott Morfee just likes...

People will bitch and moan but I've worked on the administrative side at afew theaters regionally- I've never worked for an AD who programmed a full season of shows HE/SHE REALLY LIKED. There were always one or two that they did simply as a smart "business" choice. Those shows failed. Almost always. And then we would do the same thing the following season...

The emperors have no clothes. Self produce or die.

99 said...


Good point about the Barrow St. I tend to think of it as a "commercial" rental house, not a theatre, but I didn't realize that they produce or co-produce the shows there.

Brian Polak said...

We out here. We're making thrilling, daring, engaging live theatre. We're opening our doors to audiences of all ages. We aren't pandering. We are looking for younger versions of yesterday's audience. We are looking for people who believe in our mission. And we program to that mission. It's not about doing what we like. It's about do what the organization has decided to do. We sell tickets at various price points. We host a variety of events designed to engage, enlighten, entertain and feed you. We do this for you. And we want to know how it makes you feel. Like it? Loath it? Love it? Tell us. But you have to find us first. We aren't in NYC or Chicago. We're in Pasadena. As in CA.

Brian - The Theatre @ Boston Court

Brian Polak said...

I typed so fast I screwed some of my "We are's" and "We aren't's"

The important one I want to make clear is "We are NOT looking for younger versions of yesterday's audience."