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Teach your audiences to want surprises - not pacifiers.
February 24, 2014 9:37 AM   Subscribe

"Every play in your season should be a premiere—a world premiere, an American premiere, or at least a regional premiere. Everybody has to help. Directors: Find a new play to help develop in the next 12 months. Actors: Ditto. Playwrights: Quit developing your plays into the ground with workshop after workshop after workshop—get them out there. Critics: Reward theaters that risk new work by making a special effort to review them." -Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves
posted by Navelgazer (89 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt. Sorry.

everyone deserves a living wage, asshole.
posted by The Whelk at 9:39 AM on February 24 [42 favorites]


Sell cheap tickets, serve popcorn, encourage people to boo, heckle, and shout out their favorite lines.

Is this a joke?
posted by demiurge at 9:42 AM on February 24


Is this a joke?

No. Sounds like a good idea: a night of chaos that might get some borderline people into the theater, paying money.

everyone deserves a living wage, asshole.

Yes, true, but actors may have to be semi-pros who work another job. If theaters can't pay a living wage, and actors won't work without it, then the theater closes down, and the actors aren't actors any more.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:46 AM on February 24


How is the state of the theater world these days anyway? A lot of these suggestions seem to address problems that have been around for 50 years or more --- have the past few years been so rotten that the number of professional American theaters is notably diminished?
posted by Diablevert at 9:47 AM on February 24


After all the recent discussions about the persistent lack of inclusion and diversity in theatre, I'm glad that he also advised people to hire more actors, directors and writers of color.

Oh wait he didn't.
posted by brookeb at 9:47 AM on February 24 [7 favorites]


Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt. Sorry.

everyone deserves a living wage, asshole.


This is particularly curious because it comes from The Stranger, which has been very strongly in favor of Seattle establishing a $15/hour minimum wage. Granted, acting & teching and theater are a bit different than a standard minimum wage slog -and back when I was doing storefront theater in Chicago I expected (& got) no pay- but bills is bills.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:48 AM on February 24


Sell cheap tickets, serve popcorn, encourage people to boo, heckle, and shout out their favorite lines.

Is this a joke?



It's literally the way audiences interacted with theater for two thousand years, when it was still a popular form, instead of a nonprofit dodge that seems primarily invented to allow mediocre administrators to make a lower-middle class income while they desperately chase grant and donor money to support the overwhelming cost of maintaining a full-time edifice while placating a small middlebrow audience by performing whatever did well Off-Broadway about 13 years ago.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:50 AM on February 24 [38 favorites]


Incoherent and ridiculous, not to mention contradictory. How do you produce weird, exciting new plays that people will already know the lines to?
posted by Bromius at 9:51 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


You produce a play that people like enough to come back to see again.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:53 AM on February 24 [7 favorites]


I don't know about this list, but I think that it's good when multiple theater companies share the expenses of the same space and work together to keep the schedule full and diverse and thus affordable so that going to theater can be a regular, easy habit in addition to being a special event (guest actors, certain plays.)
posted by michaelh at 9:55 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


You produce a play that people like enough to come back to see again.

Historically, didn't this rely on most plays being adaptations of widely-known myths, histories, or stories in other media?
posted by kewb at 9:56 AM on February 24


Historically, didn't this rely on most plays being adaptations of widely-known myths, histories, or stories in other media?

Makes you wish for a robust public domain, doesn't it?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:58 AM on February 24 [34 favorites]


posted by Navelgazer

Eponymildlyamusing.
posted by Behemoth at 10:00 AM on February 24


The child care thing is good, as is introducing young people to the theatre. The other half of that is teaching people how to behave at the theatre. Turn off your f'ing cell phone. No texting, no calling, no Facebooking for the entire play. And please don't talk to the person next to you.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:01 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


11. Get comfortable chairs that don't make me dread sitting in them for 2 hours. This is the #1 reason I don't go to theater.

12. Funny stuff that makes me laugh. Comedy shouldn't be a niche thing.
posted by bleep at 10:02 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


I like the child care idea, too.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:02 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


actors may have to be semi-pros who work another job. If theaters can't pay a living wage, and actors won't work without it, then the theater closes down, and the actors aren't actors any more.

Right now having every actor be a semi-pro would be a step up.

90% of the theater that gets done, even theater covered by the union, is the off-off-Broadway type of things (yes, the union even has rules dictating this). And the bare minimum the union requires the producers to pay is - reimbursing actors for their transportation to and from every rehearsal and every performance. Two months' worth of work and you get a $150 subway farecard and that's it.

And the union had to fight for even just that.

Any suggestion that actors don't need to be paid fairly scares the bejesus out of me because it has historically been far, far too easy to find people willing to work for nothing - and far, far too easy to find producers ready to exploit that. People don't need additional excuses to exploit actors.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on February 24 [5 favorites]


I agree with Bunny Ultramod that this makes me wish for a robust public domain and while I would like to see new things, I would (and maybe I am an outlier here) even more like to see Sophocles, Shaw, Williams, Miller, Moliere, etc. done in new and exciting ways. Maybe I'm an aold fart (spoiler: I am) but I'd be more likely to buy season tickets or be a repeat visitor if there was a mix of the familiar titles with premiers.
posted by pointystick at 10:09 AM on February 24


Any suggestion that actors don't need to be paid fairly scares the bejesus out of me because it has historically been far, far too easy to find people willing to work for nothing - and far, far too easy to find producers ready to exploit that. People don't need additional excuses to exploit actors.

Haven't you gotten the memo? Creatives of all stripes are now expected to ply their craft for free, or nearly so. Then sell t-shirts or something to pay the bills.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:11 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


Haven't you gotten the memo?

Anyone in the world of theater has gotten this memo for the past six decades. Theater may not be ahead of the curve in any other area, but when it came to finding ways not to pay their creative professionals, it's an industry that was and is truly in the vanguard.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:13 AM on February 24 [7 favorites]


Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already.

NOPE. If your idea of Shakespeare is a "pacifier", I submit to you that you are Doing It Wrong. Done properly, something like Titus Andronicus should leave your audience staggering out of the theater, close to vomiting and weeping with joy that they're still alive...and then turning around and heading to the box office to buy a ticket for the next performance.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:17 AM on February 24 [9 favorites]


I agree with the bar thing, though. Even the tiniest community theaters here in the UK have bars, and he's exactly right about it building community. People hang around afterward to talk over the show, meet the cast, and just generally socialize. It's fantastic.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:19 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


I submit to you that you are Doing It Wrong. Done properly, something like Titus Andronicus should leave your audience staggering out of the theater, close to vomiting and weeping with joy that they're still alive.

But the reality is, if you announce you're doing Titus Andronicus, nobody is going to buy a ticket.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:19 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


I, for one, a person who goes to about 15-20 plays per year, would cease going if booing and heckling and calling out of favorite lines was a regular feature of those events (unless we're talking about some kind of panto-like, audience-involvement thing--which could be fun once in a while, no doubt, but hardly what I'd want all theater to be. And so would most of the other regular theater goers I know. So you'd better be pretty confident that you'd attract more people than you'd put off if that was your plan.

I think a lot of this "we need a more raucous audience" thing is misreading the evidence. Yes, audiences used to be a lot noisier in the C18th and C17th--but there's really nothing about the economics of staging theater or the cultural context within which theater operates these days that's very closely analogous to the C18th or C17th. The musical remains a very popular live stage genre, without encouraging booing, heckling or singing along from the audience. Ballet and dance still manage to draw strong audiences with many young people without having audiences boo, heckle, or dance their favorite bits in the aisles. I don't think it's a desperate yearning to go out for an evening of shouting at the stage which is preventing younger audiences from attending the theater.

I do think the argument that there needs to be more new theater is a good one. We also need plays that are addressed to younger audiences. A lot of the new theater I see seems pitched at the audience that goes to the theater--which makes sense, but that's an audience where being in your 50s makes you a young whippersnapper.
posted by yoink at 10:19 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


That's a good ten point list, provocative, realistic, born out of love for precisely the kind of theater that would get me interested in going again ...

That is, "Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already, Tell us something we don't know, Produce dirty, fast, and often, Sell Booze, Boors night ... " and so on.

Going to a play should be akin to going to see a band. Something you do at least once a week, and with a passion. And if you come home a bit sweaty, good. Sweat is proof of life.

NOPE. If your idea of Shakespeare is a "pacifier", I submit to you that you are Doing It Wrong.

Okay. Every Shakespeare production I've ever seen has been done wrong, and that includes the punk rock Romeo + Juliet.
posted by philip-random at 10:21 AM on February 24


I don't know about booing and screaming, but look at how popular audience-interactive pieces are- didn't Sleep No More start as a short-term thing, and now it's been running for years? I think there's interest in pieces where it's not just sitting in a dark room for two hours, and I think they'd be easy enough to produce in local/regional spaces (obviously not everything needs to be as big as Sleep No More).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:23 AM on February 24


Watching from abroad, Americans seem to love going to see a theatrical performance, as long as it involves simulated violence, intense crowd participation and is called "sports entertainment" instead of "theater".
posted by Authorized User at 10:33 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


FTA: Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt. Sorry.

FTWhelk: everyone deserves a living wage, asshole.

Everyone does deserve a living wage, but not for whatever job they want.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:36 AM on February 24 [4 favorites]


Ten things theatre needs to do to save itself from what exactly? Half the things he rails against in the article are necessary to ensure the survival of the stuff he wants.

Shakespeare isn't what we programme because we're out of ideas, it's what we programme when money's tight and we need something that will reliably pack houses with lots of school groups for a change.

And as for the semi-affluent older audiences with all that leisure time in which to see plays, I'm sure as hell not giving them up. Somebody needs to be paying full price or we can't afford the audience development schemes which comp and discount tickets to young people and new attenders.

This article just reads like misplaced idealism. The author sounds hopelessly detached from the compromises necessary to keep a theatre afloat.
posted by the latin mouse at 10:48 AM on February 24 [4 favorites]


-but there's really nothing about the economics of staging theater or the cultural context within which theater operates these days that's very closely analogous to the C18th or C17th.

Most American theater is made in theaters with less than 100 seats and with miniscule budgets. They can afford to take more risks, to encourage more varieties of audience interaction, and to offer more varied programming precisely because they have a lot less to lose. That's precisely what the development of the nonprofit model was supposed to encourage -- theaters would be unmoored from the restrains of having to turn a profit and could instead focus on taking greater risks. It's why nonprofits are allowed to use volunteer talent rather than pay their cast.

And yet it doesn't work, and it doesn't work because it didn't get rid of the last gatekeeper who stands in the way of innovation, the salaried administrator. And whatever their best intentions, these administrators -- who are the primary decision makers in American theater --fret more about their paycheck and their mortgage than about the needs of their talent or the growth of American theater.

I don't know that I blame them. I can't imagine how theater might have developed otherwise, as the nonprofit model will almost never provide money directly to artists, and so money must be funneled through administrations, which inevitably produced the rise of a professional administrative class in the arts. And because being a nonprofit allows you to use volunteer labor, it encourages unpaid talent and discourages paid talent.

Additionally, there are incentives to owning a building -- people like to donate money to big projects, to leave behind edifices, and to have their names on buildings or donor walls. It can be easy to get sucked into wanting your own space -- there are certainly advantages. But edifices become ongoing costs, and these are costs that cannot be avoided.

And so there gets to be this frantic ongoing pursuit of money. It affects and undermines everything. Theaters won't take risks because failure isn't built into their business model -- a few pissed off donors and a few shows that sell poorly and their already frantic scramble for money becomes a race against the theater going into the sort of debt that will kill it. Programming becomes timid. It attracts the sorts of audiences who prefer timid theater -- and they are aging and dying off, leaving the theaters with an unsustainable model as their cost of doing business continues to climb but their audience and donor base gets planted in increasing numbers.

Worse still, theaters have tried to augment their income by expanding the sorts of grants and donors they go after, including a lot of humanities and social services grants. It's why so many theaters having things like "to foster conversation" and "to build community" in their mission statements, something that, in general, they only address by putting on depressing socially themed plays and then having irritating talk-back sessions afterwards. Some also create incompetent educational programming. But these companies are not made up of social services professionals or educators, and so they end up leeching grant money off of organizations that really can do a terrific job of creating community and educating underserved audiences, or whatever. And it's not great for plays, because the theaters start programming around granting needs and mission statements, instead of simply trying to create the best theater possible.

The economic model for contemporary theater can be summed up in one word: unsustainable. If you don't want to shout at a play you're attending, you're not paying attention.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:49 AM on February 24 [10 favorites]


A.
Bunny Ultramod is winning this thread
(yes by the way, theater is a contact sport -- talking about it anyway)

B.
Shakespeare isn't what we programme because we're out of ideas, it's what we programme when money's tight and we need something that will reliably pack houses with lots of school groups for a change.

And if one of those school group kids is fifteen year old me going to a proper adult theatrical production for the first time in his life, congratulations, you just bored him to death. So, short term gain on getting my ten bucks or whatever, long term pain on not encouraging me to return.

not saying all teens are bored by Shakespeare, but I certainly was. Interesting that the play that changed my mind about theater was a university production of Brecht's Baal. Now that had balls.
posted by philip-random at 11:03 AM on February 24


#11: More horror/science fiction stories with horrific creature and makeup effects [this saved the movies too]
posted by Renoroc at 11:13 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


NOPE. If your idea of Shakespeare is a "pacifier", I submit to you that you are Doing It Wrong. Done properly, something like Titus Andronicus should leave your audience staggering out of the theater, close to vomiting and weeping with joy that they're still alive...and then turning around and heading to the box office to buy a ticket for the next performance.

Uh-hunh. And you think the average off-off-off Broadway regional theater troupe is capable of performing Shakespeare at that level, hmm? Because I've been to seasons of Shakespeare in the Park larded with RADA trained pros and they weren't. It's not a knock on the quality of Shakespeare to point out that he gets used as a crutch, a prop, eat-your-vegetables filler in a stale, stale diet. I rather go to play and not know what they end will be once in a while...
posted by Diablevert at 11:16 AM on February 24


The economic model for contemporary theater can be summed up in one word: unsustainable. If you don't want to shout at a play you're attending, you're not paying attention.

I can't really tell what point you're trying to argue with here. I didn't advance any argument about the sustainability or otherwise of the economic model for contemporary theater. I merely said it's not the same (and cannot be the same) as that for C17th and C18th theater (you know, the theater where the audience came and made lots of noise which you seem to yearn for, for whatever reason).

As for your use of "shout at" in the above quotation. I take it you mean "complain about the underlying economic model/cultural position of," right? Well, sure. Fine. That doesn't mean I want a theater to replace it which cannot allow for a more thoughtful, contemplative and emotionally intense experience than a pantomime or a WWF bout. I don't disagree that the current situation is dire, I just think some of the proposals for "fixing" it could be even worse.
posted by yoink at 11:24 AM on February 24


I've been involved with a wonderful fringe theatre troupe here in Houston that does so many things right and have been wildly successful. I'm not a professional or even an invested amateur, but here's what they do that I love:

1. Premiere not only originals, but (sometimes) originals that target folks who might not even consider theatre for a night out. Bluefinger was based on a Black Francis album which was based on the life of a real-life, famous Dutch rock and roll junkie. Speeding Motorcycle and Life is Happy and Sad were based on the work of Daniel Johnston. All three were also fully realized, sometimes devastating plays.

2. Every ticket for every show is pay-what-you-can. Can someone explain to me why this isn't more prevalent? I don't think that they get financially destroyed at the box office. The rich socialites get to experience a night of "wild" theatre and feel good about themselves for paying extra for it, and the rest of us poor folks pay the recommended $20 every time we can and less when times are tight.

I'm a former kinda punk rock dude who's now a sober daddy. I no longer have any interest in hanging out in bars, but dammit I want my thrills every now and then, and Catastrophic goes after my sensibilities in a big way. They got me in the door with the rock and roll spectacles and kept me coming back for Wallace Shawn and Samuel Beckett and Richard Foreman and just too many amazing shows to mention. And now I look for every interesting sounding play in this huge city.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 11:26 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


And you think the average off-off-off Broadway regional theater troupe is capable of performing Shakespeare at that level, hmm?

Pretty sure I didn't say that. It's a goal, not an absolute criterion. What I am saying is that it's all too easy to fall into the familiar rut of doing Shakespeare as something turgid and lifeless and uncut as any number of metaphors that have just come to mind while I was typing that list of adjectives. If I see another reverent by-the-numbers tights-and-skull Hamlet, I'm taking a hostage.

Even an off-off-off-Broadway troupe, though, is more than capable of taking some risks with Shakespeare. Cut the text in an unusual way. Have Macbeth's witches sitting in the audience. Double Hamlet's father's ghost and the Player King. Anything. Go nuts. Just do. Something. Different.

Whatever you try may fail spectacularly, but maybe...just maybe...it'll be magic.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:30 AM on February 24


I'm don't disagree that the current situation is dire, I just think some of the proposals for "fixing" it could be even worse.

That presumes that these suggestions are meant to be applied to every theater, across the board. Some theater would benefit from having a lively audience. Some wouldn't. The trouble is that now the Barnam's American Museum model of being an audience -- sober, contemplative, and limited in the way they interact to paying for a ticket, sitting, and applauding at the end -- has been universally applied to American theater, and it's honestly a pretty bland way to experience live performance.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:34 AM on February 24


In the shows I've been doing for the past few years, we actually tell the audience to make noise during the show, with demonstrations as to how, as part of the pre-show. (Which also includes a "turn off your cell phone" bit - even with that emphasis it's not that *any and all* noise is considered appropriate.)

However, and this is a big however, the stuff I'm doing is part of a genre which has a really strong tradition of that, and also one for which it works particularly well. I don't think it would be ideal for every show, or even most. I'm usually sitting quietly because I'm wrapped up in the story, and don't particular want to be taken out of the story by someone else in the audience talking back to the show. After all, the same "sit quietly except to laugh or gasp" tradition applies to movies as well (in large part), and that's a thriving medium right now. I think the tradition of the show being the focus rather than the audience has evolved because most people prefer it that way, not because there has been some dictum from On High about it.

Anyway. I certainly agree that theater needs more space for the new. Arts that produce new works are living; arts that reproduce old works are dead.
posted by kyrademon at 11:45 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


The Barnam's American Museum model Bunny Ultramod mentions reminds me of when Saturday Night Fever came to Malaysia's Istana Budaya, pretty much the most formal performance space in the country.

Bad match from the get-go. Some of us attendees (myself included) were not allowed entry because we didn't have the right 'dress code' and were given absolutely ugly plaid shirts to wear - imagine they were run over by traffic twice. (Until now I have an aversion to plaid and flannel for exactly this reason.)

The performance itself was great, very energetic and lively, but everyone is super formal and polite and doesn't bounce the energy back. At the very end when they go all out disco party they encouraged their audience to dance: the only ones who did so were me, the kids, and their parents. I felt really sorry for the cast - but I'm not sure where else in Malaysia they could have staged it - back when I was in town there really wasn't a lot of support for theater, you were either indie grassroots or nothing, maybe things have changed since.
posted by divabat at 11:48 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


This is only tangentially relevant, but since ThePinkSuperhero mentioned it, I saw Sleep No More--drove to NYC for the occasion--on the recommendation of so many video game writers talking about how it was better than video games.

It wasn't. Everyone just followed Macbeth around. If there were no actors around, nothing happened. I think literally one audience member got lapdanced, and that was scripted. There was no audience interaction, no mystery to unravel. One of the actors slapped my hand and vigorously shook her head when I, laboring under the mistaken idea that I could Solve the Puzzle by acting like a Fallout protagonist, dug around in her desk drawers.

Don't get me wrong, it was a great piece of modern dance. I loved the athleticism and the nudity of athletic people. The tech people should be very proud of themselves. But interactive medium it was not. And it was like $80 a head.

I get why interactive theater would be so hard to do in practice, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to be in the audience for an actual attempt.
posted by radicalawyer at 11:54 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt. Sorry.

...

Just take care of people. They get drinks, you get money, everybody wins. Tax, zoning, and liquor laws in your way? Change them or ignore them.


Come for the labor law violations, stay for the exciting finale as the cops raid the place for selling liquor without a license during the third act!

Seriously, is this guy 17 years old and writing an op-ed for extra credit in his theater class?
posted by Mayor West at 11:56 AM on February 24 [4 favorites]


Seriously, is this guy 17 years old and writing an op-ed for extra credit in his theater class?

I think the current term of art is "disruptor".
posted by Thorzdad at 11:57 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Come for the labor law violations, stay for the exciting finale as the cops raid the place for selling liquor without a license during the third act!

I'm not clear on what labor laws are being violated, or why it is impossible for theaters to get liquor licenses. I have been in plenty of theaters that serve alcohol and it is generally appreciated.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:03 PM on February 24


Some theater would benefit from having a lively audience. Some wouldn't.

Well, sure. Some theater benefits from having dinosaur puppets, some doesn't. Some theater benefits from having togas, some doesn't. Some theater benefits from being written in rhyming couplets, some doesn't. But if that's all the argument boils down to, it's so anodyne as to be meaningless.

If the argument is "try a bunch of different approaches to theater" then, sure. But who is going to argue against that? If the argument is "what's keeping young people away from the theater is that they're expected to keep quiet during most performances" then I would say there is no evidence to support that claim. The decline of the popularity of theater doesn't coincide with the development of cultural norms about audience silence and there are plenty of stage/theater media which young audiences have not abandoned which demand exactly the same audience norms.
posted by yoink at 12:06 PM on February 24


I'll admit to being puzzled when I saw "Sleep No More" referred to as interactive theater on this thread. (Incidentally, I consider "Sleep No More" possibly the most brilliant piece of theater I have seen in the past 10 years.)

It's a *little* bit more interactive than traditional seated theater, and certainly much more self-directed in terms of what you see, but it doesn't approach anywhere near the level of interactivity that, say, much of children's theater traditionally does, or even improv theater.

I'd never heard it billed as being interactive. I'd heard it billed as being site-specific, which is a totally different thing.
posted by kyrademon at 12:07 PM on February 24 [4 favorites]


One of the actors slapped my hand and vigorously shook her head when I...dug around in her...drawers.

Well, no wonder.
posted by yoink at 12:08 PM on February 24


I'm not clear on what labor laws are being violated, or why it is impossible for theaters to get liquor licenses.

Mayor West was responding to the suggestion that theaters ignore liquor laws and serve drinks anyway...
Tax, zoning, and liquor laws in your way? Change them or ignore them.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:10 PM on February 24


And you think the average off-off-off Broadway regional theater troupe is capable of performing Shakespeare at that level, hmm?

Off-off-Broadway doesn't mean "low quality". Off-off-Broadway only means "limited money to produce a show." And yes, many off-off-Broadway troupes are indeed capable of performing Shakespeare at that level - many of them even surpass that level - probably because being that broke means that they've put the creativity into overdrive trying to come up with hacks for not having a super-colossal budget, and that creativity carries over into the rest of the production. Seriously, one of the best Romeo-and-Juliets I've seen was a bare-bones Shakespeare-in-the-park for free production in the 90's somewhere.

More horror/science fiction stories with horrific creature and makeup effects [this saved the movies too]

Actually, I think it should go the other way; rather than trying to adopt a means used by the movies, theater should capitalize on all the ways it is unlike movies. Movies =/= theater, and there are ways theater can underscore that - that is what will help it to stand out. Trying to copy movies is just kind of ignoring its own strenghts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:12 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


If the argument is "try a bunch of different approaches to theater" then, sure. But who is going to argue against that?

A huge percentage of funded theaters in America.

The decline of the popularity of theater doesn't coincide with the development of cultural norms about audience silence and there are plenty of stage/theater media which young audiences have not abandoned which demand exactly the same audience norms.

There was a dramatic shift in who theater is presented to, and how it is presented, following the Astor Place riot. Theater had previously been presented as a mass, popular entertainment, but theater owners decided they preferred a middle and upper class audience, and so set about recreating theater as a status event, imposing new costs, rules, and behavioral expectations, including borrowing a model of audience interaction from Barnam's American Museum -- which, despite its humbug, made a great show of pretending to be an educational organization. This model of behavior was, for the most part, new to theater, which has a long tradition of vocal audience participation.

This is still the theater we see today, except with a profound drop in the status markers of the events -- theaters are no longer gilded palaces filled with formally attired attendees, but small boxes with uncomfortable seating attended by people in jeans. It was meant to be exclusionary, and has, unfortunately, managed to exclude everybody except die-hard theater nerds, such as me, with the exception of places like Broadway, which still use a for-profit model and have long banked on spectacle.

Yes, I think there is an actual link with this standard for audience behavior and the decline of theater in general. When you self-limit who you want as an audience, you'd better have a way of making sure that smaller audience will continue to support you. Right now, they don't.

I am curious to these other stage/media forms that young audiences haven't abandoned, despite them demanding silence. I can only think of film, and the fact is that audience behavior in a film depends on where you see the movie, what sort of movie it is, and what sort of audience you have. I have been to plenty of movies where the audience has responded vocally to the screen, and been applauded for doing so. It's often a lot of fun, which can't be said for most of the plays I have seen in the past decade.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:18 PM on February 24


Actually, I think it should go the other way; rather than trying to adopt a means used by the movies, theater should capitalize on all the ways it is unlike movies.

Yes. In fact, I think this is in a lot of ways the heart of the problem with young people and the theater. They go to the theater thinking of it as being something like a live-action movie and then all the ways in which it's unlike movies just seem like it failing to approximate the movie experience. The acting seems over the top, the emotions seem too "hot," it feels claustrophobic etc. etc. Young people find live theater vaguely embarrassing (movies, by contrast, are a relatively "cool" medium--it's all over there on the screen, there's no actual human being in the room with you etc.). I think theater that really insists on the ways in which theater and movies deliver very different kinds of rewards helps to educate audiences who are unfamiliar with theater into the differences between what are superficially quite similar seeming media. And that, in turn, can help make people better able to connect with the more straightforward kinds of theatrical storytelling that are more superficially movie-like.
posted by yoink at 12:19 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


There was a dramatic shift in who theater is presented to, and how it is presented, following the Astor Place riot.

That's hilariously parochial. The crisis in theater attendance/vibrancy is happening all over the Western world, and the same large cultural shift in the expectations of audience behavior at concerts, theater, opera, dance etc. also happened all over the Western world. The notion that a bunch of theater owners in New York somehow created this shift by concerted action in the wake of the Astor Place riot is laughable.
posted by yoink at 12:24 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


many off-off-Broadway troupes are indeed of performing Shakespeare at that level - many of them even surpass that level

Didn't say any or some, said "the average." I'm not arguing that Shakespeare isn't worth doing or that some performers can't perform his works brilliantly. But I do think he's part of the problem, in the sense that, as mentioned upthread, he's become the go-to move to gets butts in the seats, and then the theater becomes something that people go to to Experience High Culture, something the vast majority of people only gear themselves up for a handful of times in their lives. The notion of going to a play simply being a fun thing to do on a weekend dies away entirely and it calcifies into opera.

I mean, I dunno if a moritorium on Shakespeare is what's needed. I'm sure there are still interesting ways to tackle the Bard. But I do think it might be helpful if there was less effort spent on reinventing the classics and more on telling contemporary, ordinary, new stories...
posted by Diablevert at 12:26 PM on February 24


Come for the labor law violations, stay for the exciting finale as the cops raid the place for selling liquor without a license during the third act!

I think there was an implied "You'll know best what option makes sense for your situation"

Actually, I think it should go the other way; rather than trying to adopt a means used by the movies, theater should capitalize on all the ways it is unlike movies. Movies =/= theater, and there are ways theater can underscore that - that is what will help it to stand out. Trying to copy movies is just kind of ignoring its own strenghts.

This is true, but I think it's wrong to use this thinking to move away from effects. Special effects is actually a good example of what movies can't deliver (movies are all CG, effects on stage are real). Of the plays I've seen, ones that memorably packed the house night after night with crowds of all ages, were the Terry Pratchett "Discworld" plays. Comedy is something that works great when live, so they've got all that going for them, plus the weird-ass yet loveable characters, and with all the visual spectacle thrown in (Discworld is a costumer's and propmaker's dream-project), those shows hit a bunch of points that stage does well. (I did some props on one of them, used some new technology that pretty much no-one in the audience had ever seen or heard of before. It was well received.)
Pratchett is largely unknown in the USA, but pretty big in the more Brit-leaning countries
posted by anonymisc at 12:26 PM on February 24


That's hilariously parochial.

I know. How could one of the largest theater producers and exporters at a time of international imperialism possible effect theater behavior elsewhere?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:28 PM on February 24


I am curious to these other stage/media forms that young audiences haven't abandoned, despite them demanding silence.

Try going to dance performances some time: whether classical ballet or modern dance. The difference between the audience demographics there and at a play is striking. Or try going to a musical. And I don't know how you get to hand wave away movies simply by instancing the very rare exceptions of special performances where audience participation is encouraged (Rocky Horror and the like). Movies were mass entertainment for young people from the 1920s through the present, all well post the Astor Place Riot conspiracy you believe in and during a time when for the vast majority of performances audience norms deprecated vocal responses from the audience. The notion that you can't build a mass popular audience unless that audience is invited to participate is simply and flatly disproven by that history.
posted by yoink at 12:30 PM on February 24


Try going to dance performances some time: whether classical ballet or modern dance.

Well, I was an arts critic for two decades. I don't remember the throngs of young people sitting in studious silence at these events, but perhaps I simply overlooked them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:32 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


I know. How could one of the largest theater producers and exporters at a time of international imperialism possible effect theater behavior elsewhere?

Please, enlighten me. How did they affect theater behavior elsewhere? How, for example, did they alter the norms of audience behavior in, say, France and Germany?
posted by yoink at 12:34 PM on February 24


instancing the very rare exceptions of special performances where audience participation is encouraged

Oh, I wasn't. There has been audience interaction at every Fast and Furious movie I have gone to. One woman called out "Drive naked!" during one scene.

Please, enlighten me. How did they affect theater behavior elsewhere? How, for example, did they alter the norms of audience behavior in, say, France and Germany?

Is this really the subject of this thread, or have you just decided that you must know more than me and have decided to make that the point of the thread. I assure you, the Astor Place Riot phenomenon is a real one, and if you want to investigate it further, by all means. If you want to dismiss is, that's also your prerogative, but you're becoming increasingly sarcastic and unpleasant, and I don't really want to interact with you any more.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:36 PM on February 24


I mean, I dunno if a moritorium on Shakespeare is what's needed.

Maybe you can have your cake and eat it too - perhaps there's room for specific theatre(s) in an area to rebrand themselves as a "new"* kind of theatre that never does stuff like Shakespeare. Maybe there could be a moniker to communicate that - like how pantomime and children's theatre are something you know involves fun and kids yelling and doesn't involve Shakespeare. Or like how Cirque du Solei branded themselves as circus that only did human performance.

*Not Really :)
posted by anonymisc at 12:38 PM on February 24


Didn't say any or some, said "the average."

My point was more "the average is higher-quality than you think". I've seen some off-off-Broadway shows that sucked too. But the bell curve is better than you'd think, is my point.

I'm not arguing that Shakespeare isn't worth doing or that some performers can't perform his works brilliantly. But I do think he's part of the problem, in the sense that, as mentioned upthread, he's become the go-to move to gets butts in the seats....

I'd maybe instead go for a moratorium on a couple of specific plays rather than retiring Shakespeare as a whole. Everyone does R&J or Hamlet; how about Corialainus sometime?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:38 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


good points from yoink about hot vs cool experiences ...

I know for me that as soon as a play starts to try to convince me I'm experiencing some "realism", I become very aware of just how artificial everything is. No, the plays that have worked best for me have been the ones that explore the unreality of the presentation: everything from "breaking the fourth wall" to just plain strange, but compelling staging, lighting, costumes, everything ...

Movies and TV on the other hand, I find it very easy to get lost in their "realism" when it's done well.

But this doesn't mean you couldn't do a great theatrical take on something like say Reservoir Dogs, as long as you owned the unreality of it; indeed, made that a sort of leaping off point.
posted by philip-random at 12:46 PM on February 24


you're becoming increasingly sarcastic

Actually, BU, you were the one being sarcastic ("I know. How could one of the largest theater producers and exporters at a time of international imperialism possible effect theater behavior elsewhere?"); I asked you a simple, straightforward question. I see that it is one you do not have an answer to, however. Never mind.
posted by yoink at 12:52 PM on February 24


philip-random: I'm actually not at all surprised that Brecht was what got you into theatre.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:53 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Perhaps they could serve bread with their circuses?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:58 PM on February 24


Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already. . . . It's time for a five-year moratorium. . . by Brendan Kiley, October 9, 2008

Looks like the moratorium ended last fall:

The Stranger suggests: Gloomy, moody Shakespeare
Who suggests it: Brendan Kiley, Posted on 01/15/2014
George Mount, artistic director of Seattle Shakespeare Company, plays Richard as lyrical, delicate, arrogant, and totally out of touch with his noblemen, who are rumbling up from below him to seize his crown, led by the indignant Henry of Bolingbroke, soon to be Henry IV. “I wasted time,” the young king sighs in his prison cell, “and now time doth waste me.”
The Stranger suggests: Duke Ellington's jazz riffs on Shakespeare's sonnets and plays
Who suggests it: Brendan Kiley, Posted 01/29/2014
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn were big Shakespeare fans . . . Tonight, the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra and actors from Seattle Shakespeare Company will share the stage and bring you Shakespeare in words and tunes.
posted by Herodios at 1:25 PM on February 24


Out here in Hawaii, we say that theatre is competing with hanging out at the gas station. What we mean is that there are so many different choices for what you might do to pass the time now that you need to give people a reason to come to the theatre instead of going to a movie, going out to dinner, going to the beach, going to a club, partying, staying home and watching TV, staying home and playing a game, whatever. To whit, how you gonna get 'em in the theatre once they've seen Eve online?

We can't compete for visuals on equal terms with anything that takes a serious budget to create - and that includes games, tv, and film. Sure, we can do some interesting costume and make-up stuff, but we can't especially make it seem like you're in a scrolling 3D world.

We don't offer the same social experience as hanging out with your friends (on or offline).

What we can do is to try and take advantage of all the things that live theatre can uniquely do. Far from embracing greater realism, the most effective theatre I've seen lately has embraced greater theatricality. I just saw a jingju production the other day that blew me away precisely because it mixed fine acting with tremendous theatricality. It wouldn't have been nearly as interesting on film or TV. The actors did things that you won't be seeing your friends do at the gas station or at a club. If you want to really experience it, you have to go.

Just like other people have mentioned, the people who get paid a living wage in theatre out here tend to be administrators (and occasionally technicians and designers). Actors especially are expected to get paid in applause. Yet, without the actors, there's no theatre. Its an amazingly exploitative system. Asking the few actors (and its a very few) who get paid a living wage to starve is bullshit.

Furthermore, out here at least, the theatres that attract the largest audience (and audience of all ages) are the ones that do the big name musicals. And sometimes our Shakespeare festival sells out whole runs of shows - Pericles, Troilus and Cressida and King John all sell as well as Julius Caesar and The Tempest if they're done well.

The shows that sell the best and among the widest swath of our non-theatre going audience are original locally written comedies by Ed Sakamoto, Lee Cataluna and the late Lisa Matsumoto. These plays reflect the local community and people genuinely want to see them. Yet, somehow, its never dawned on anyone to try and create a theatre out here that focuses 100% on creating and re-staging locally written comedies.

Basically, if you want to do theatre that will sell, ask your audience what they want to see. Don't be surprised if they answer "Oklahoma every single year forever" or "Can you bring out somebody famous every year?" or even "something that reflects my life." Also don't be surprised if it doesn't sell even though they said they want to see it. Audiences are capricious at best, insane at worst. God love 'em.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:26 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]


It wasn't. Everyone just followed Macbeth around. If there were no actors around, nothing happened. I think literally one audience member got lapdanced, and that was scripted. There was no audience interaction, no mystery to unravel. One of the actors slapped my hand and vigorously shook her head when I, laboring under the mistaken idea that I could Solve the Puzzle by acting like a Fallout protagonist, dug around in her desk drawers.

Okay, I feel the need to jump in and defend Sleep No More. It does have problems - one is that you really need to be super lucky on your first go, or visit multiple times, to really get a sense for it and experience everything.

There is actually a lot of powerful audience interaction in Sleep No More, but it generally happens in private spaces. Almost all those scenes have one audience member, one actor in a locked room. These are amazing experiences, but you're sorta out-of-luck if you don't get chosen. It's somewhat scripted but the actors have a lot of freedom in the role. How you interact changes the scene, sometimes significantly, but you're going to hit certain plot points nonetheless. No one's going to save Banquo from dying.

The mystery of it isn't necessarily a puzzle you can solve - it's not a "whodunnit" (MacBeth lol) - but more like an atmospheric indie game like Dear Esther. There is a mystery, with evolving clues and hints, but you have to visit multiple times and really explore to really grasp the bigger picture. And as you said, it's pretty expensive these days.

It's easy to miss this stuff the first time. It's a problem how you can have a really mediocre experience or a really amazing first experience at Sleep No More just by chance. I've heard Punchdrunk solved a lot of these issues at their newest work, including a lot more characters and thus a lot more opportunity for interactive experiences with the actors.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:05 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]


I've seen this piece written a million times about art music, for lack of a better word. It's such a tired argument generally pushed by someone not doing much him or herself to change things.

I was also going to add a comment that would have sounded like Joey Michaels, but with a lot less nuance and persuasiveness. The biggest problem the arts have is convincing folks that its more worth their time to leave the house to do THEIR thing over a million and two other things. Its hard to make that case with an unpolished undefined quantity, especially when they can turn on netflix and watch some of cinemas greatest offerings.
posted by lownote at 2:19 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


> "And sometimes our Shakespeare festival sells out whole runs of shows - Pericles, Troilus and Cressida and King John all sell as well as Julius Caesar and The Tempest if they're done well."

And it was pretty great to see a production of Pericles that actually worked when they did it back in 2009 ... it is a surprisingly bizarre play.

(The next show I'm involved with goes up in June at Mark's Garage, by the way, if you want to stop by.)
posted by kyrademon at 2:23 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


The biggest problem the arts have is convincing folks that its more worth their time to leave the house to do THEIR thing over a million and two other things. Its hard to make that case with an unpolished undefined quantity

I do that with live music on a regular basis. Why? Because the music is a necessary but ultimately incidental piece of the experience. Ultimately it is about hanging out with my friends and drinking a few beers for a $10 cover charge. If the music is awesome, great! I become a fan and have had a great new experience. If it's not, I still had a nice night out and a few drinks in a familiar venue.

The closest I have experienced this was Story League which was the equivalent of hearing a bunch of monologues. Which I would never have thought I would do, but it was at one of my favorite venues, and there was beer, so I went and had a great time with one of my friends.
posted by deanc at 2:50 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


I think we can all agree that the author's best point was the one about the bar. Indeed, its the only one that I can support with evidence. His other points are strong opinions but unless he has evidence that he's not sharing with us, they're just strong opinions.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:57 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Also, kyrademon, I bet you anything we know or at least know of each other in real life. Will look forward to your June show.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:00 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


As someone who For five years put on weekly quasi-theatrical events that always made thier money back enough for me to draw a small salary and budget for props/set dressing, I will say this.

Liquor is very important.

Also naked famous people.
posted by The Whelk at 3:00 PM on February 24 [6 favorites]


I'm part of two productions right now staging next month. They're both independent productions by groups that don't have their own fixed venue - one is part of a mini-residency at a local small performance space, the other is a community project that rents out the local women's center for the main performance event.

I'm helping with promotions for both of them and already I'm somewhat stumped on how to bring audiences to our shows. One of the productions (the one at the women's center) has the advantage of being a long-running show with quite a following as well as a slightly larger cast, but that doesn't mean that we can be complacent about promo. The other is a very tiny group with a nonexistent budget, promised publicity help by the venue but not getting much at all (the flyers are not very well done, listing dates have been missed, etc).

A lot of the theatre and stage productions I've seen lately have been from artists that are not usually resident in the theatre they're performing in, but have either rented the space or applied for a temporary residency. Drawing audiences in gets a little trickier because we're not necessarily as established and may not have a roving following. We create and produce our own work, every last line, but because it's so new it's not always "Oh hey look reliable Shakespeare". The tiny production has the potential for touring but it's not confirmed; the women's center production only happens once a year.

I would like to see a list like this geared towards productions put up by more transient entities. How do you promote yourself if you can't promise liquor at the venue, for instance?
posted by divabat at 3:13 PM on February 24


divabat: as to that one question, my best suggestion is to find the nearest bar to the venue and strike up a special deal with their manager - you can probably get your patrons cheap drinks before and after the show by driving them to that bar and guaranteeing them a couple of rushes, and you still get your meet-and-greet afterwards (which, agreed, is a much much better way to do that sort of thing than with the pretentious-as-all-hell post-show Q&As.)
posted by Navelgazer at 3:33 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Playwrights: Quit developing your plays into the ground with workshop after workshop after workshop—get them out there.

Look, I both agree and disagree with this. Combined with his advice to produce "dirty, fast and often", I'm not sure it's the best approach.

There should definitely be a point in which you stop the readings and the workshops and just do the play. Not everything has to be (or should be) done on a huge budget. If you can't get a big company to do it, find a small company or do it yourself.

But I also know independent companies in Melbourne who produce dirty, fast and often - and not everyone is better for it. Least of all the companies themselves, if they produce a couple of duds in a row.

And a lot of new writing I see could benefit from more time in development - but who pays for that? Mainstage companies (state funded, subscriber-based theatre companies) have the money for rehearsal and production; some of them commission new works. None of that is necessarily committed to development. You might be able to do some in the rehearsal room, but not much.

As for the other points:

Shakespeare - locally I'm seeing radical reinterpretations of Shakespeare that still make the idea of Shakespeare exciting. Sometimes it works (indigenous actors doing Lear as "The Shadow King"), sometimes it doesn't (casting a woman as Lear in "Queen Lear").

Get them young - absolutely. And I think making it more interactive/site-specific/not what young people expect from theatre is a MUST. I saw Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Mike Bartlett's Cock last night and the best thing I overheard in the after-show chat, two teenagers saying they should see plays more often. Unfortunately, MTC doesn't really do that many shows aimed at teenage audiences.

Offer child care - seems like a reasonable suggestion. Better than that people taking children into a theatre to get restless

Fight for real estate - or just put on shows in unusual locations. It can be immersive and amazing.

Build bars - I'm used to going into theatres with a drink in my hand in Australia. But even if you can't drink in the auditorium, you should be able to drink after and chatting with the cast and crew can be fun for everyone.

Boors' night out - I have no problem with this idea, but make it clear it's only on specific nights, I think. But more verbal reactions can be fun.

Expect poverty - NO. But do expect to have another job.
posted by crossoverman at 3:37 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


I would see small plays, set in parks. Like Shakespeare on The Sound here in CT for any locals. Cost of production provides natural economics as you get larger. Two beautiful nearby theaters have some great shows, but stand empty often I expect with the managing arts councils struggling to get by. Pretty affluent area too. Anybody wanna produce some shows?

Why not light a candle?
posted by sfts2 at 3:52 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


encourage people to boo, heckle, and shout out their favorite lines.

This is part of the draw of Medieval Times. The last time I went I yelled myself hoarse cheering on my own knight, but also telling the other knights that they sucked, they should go home, that their swords were as dull as their brains, and that they were born to dirty peasants. Fun times.
posted by FJT at 4:43 PM on February 24


Navelgazer: There are plenty of bars in the areas where we're performing - and since one of the productions is specifically about mental health issues I'm not sure it's a good idea to endorse a drinks special. Also there may be regulations about that sort of thing? Not sure about SF but I remember in Australia that potentially being a problem. Also not all of us have the capacity to drive people around, esp since a few have small kids to tend to.

(And, well, other than bars, what other options do we have? I'm seriously asking, I could use ideas.)

Unusual locations - the Anywhere Theatre Festival in Brisbane is entirely about work presented anywhere but a theatre, and it's going pretty strong. I've seen work in people's living rooms and sprawled on campus at a university; other places have included cafes and parks.
posted by divabat at 4:45 PM on February 24


Sorry! When I said "drive" I meant metaphorically, as in "get the patrons to go there before and after the show." Not like the producers acting as a car service. Unfortunately I don't know anything about doing this sort of thing in Australia, but it sounds like others here might, so hopefully they'll pop in with suggestions.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:58 PM on February 24


Oh! Haha I took you literally. And I am in SF currently, but relatively new, so maybe there's some avenue I've never heard about.
posted by divabat at 5:16 PM on February 24


Sorry! When I said "drive" I meant metaphorically, as in "get the patrons to go there before and after the show." Not like the producers acting as a car service. Unfortunately I don't know anything about doing this sort of thing in Australia, but it sounds like others here might, so hopefully they'll pop in with suggestions.

Pretty much every theatre I've been to in Sydney, even the tiny ones, has had a bar in-house, so I've not really seen this done much.

In my experience, people stick around for a drink after, then drift off in their own social groups to whatever bars they prefer.

At the expensive end of town (The Sydney Opera House, Sydney Theatre Company) one of my big gripes is that there isn't anywhere to go to get a drink and a bite after a show.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:00 PM on February 24


I'm someone who should be a regular at theater, since I love artsy movies and literature and all that, but every time I've gone to a play it's been a total snooze fest, and on top of that you feel locked in your seat for two hours with no hope of rescue. At least at the movies you can eat popcorn or get up to go to the bathroom without some old people hissing at you.

But the discussion here is fascinating, and I was particularly struck by these two comments:

>You produce a play that people like enough to come back to see again.

>Going to a play should be akin to going to see a band. Something you do at least once a week, and with a passion. And if you come home a bit sweaty, good. Sweat is proof of life.

Because that hasn't been my experience, at all, ever (with the exception of burlesque performances), but I really wish it was, and this thread is making me jealous of people who live somewhere (like the Austin example above) where that is routinely possible.

So, for what little it's worth, what would it take to get me to go weekly?

Alcohol, definitely. Ideally in the theater itself but at least an attached bar before and after. If we are going out for date night there is going to be a bottle of wine or some local beers involved, and theater would make for a perfect accompaniment. Or if it's an all-ages show, then make it still fun, not turgid.

Playing with format and tone. Burlesque is fun not just because of nakedness, but also because it is deliberately playing with a bunch of things (gaze, music, camp, etc) that aren't there in a traditional performance where some dude in tights stands there and Orates Very Loudly and Theatrically.

Have something iterative about it -- I suspect that this is part of what makes burlesque work, watching the same performers perfect and change performances while also having new or visiting elements. Keeping things the same is boring, but people like an element of familiarity and watching things change. The mention above of the Fast and Furious movies makes sense in this way -- part of the pleasure is in watching the same actors in similar but new situations.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:14 PM on February 24


Kind of interesting that nobody has mentioned Tyler Perry at all. Wasn't (isn't?) he America's most successful playwright for quite a while? I'm not saying that you have to love his work, but there are lessons to be learned here.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:33 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


At the expensive end of town (The Sydney Opera House, Sydney Theatre Company) one of my big gripes is that there isn't anywhere to go to get a drink and a bite after a show.

Well if you're seeing an STC show at the Sydney Theatre or the Wharf Theatre, there's always The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf - the name even tells you where it is :)
posted by crossoverman at 7:30 PM on February 24


everyone deserves a living wage, asshole.

On whose dime and for what in return? Let's leave aside the genuinely helpless and focus on the simply bone idle (aka sturdy beggars) and those diligently pottering away on creative dreams the results of which have zilch commercial (never mind artistic) value. There are already far too many would-be writers, musicians, composers, painters, poets for the market to bear - do they all deserve subsidies for work that in their heart of hearts even they would admit is sub-par?

On a societal level, that can translate into an awful lot of insurance adjusters, traffic cops, bakers, and help desk personnel, whose labor is a lot more beneficial to the world in general. You want a hobby, fine - but a hobby is not justification for a living wage. If you're any good at all, you might rise to self sufficiency - but you are not owed.

I think theatre could come back simply because it resists being ripped off digitally. Did I read here someplace about the Australian musician who refuses to record because he's sick to death of the Music Wants to be Free nonsense? You want him, you go to him.

Mind you, ticket prices....
posted by IndigoJones at 5:27 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


I would see small plays, set in parks. Like Shakespeare on The Sound here in CT for any locals.

There's already quite a few...granted, I'm writing from New York where you can't throw a frisbee without hitting a Shakespeare-in-the-park production during the summer, and it's possible that in other communities they aren't so thick on the ground. But they are out there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on February 25


If we can support 3.6 million long term job application writers and have an economic "recovery", we can afford a few middling playwrights and actors and poets and stoned youtube cat video posters.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:05 AM on February 25


On the living wage discussion: I don't think anybody here is saying that everyone who wants to be a theatre-maker should get to be a writer/actor/set designer and get paid accordingly. I think what I'm resisting against is the idea that the article seems to be suggesting - that creatives should "expect poverty" so that theatres can save themselves. That to me translates to creatives being exploited by theatres, getting underpaid - ie. not receiving a living wage for what can often be a full time job if you're doing it with any kind of regularity or consistency.

In the real world, it's hard to make a living in the theatre. I accepted a long time ago that if I wanted to live comfortably, I'd need to do other work. But I know other people who make their primary living from theatre - and I still feel like they are exploited. And the problem is, we give hours and hours of our lives away because we want to make theatre - and producers and theatre companies get hours and hours of labour out of us because we like making art. And we should be compensated properly for that work.

We should probably be better at stopping and saying no, but then there's this attitude that we should "expect poverty" and that it would be better if we were bakers or traffic cops or insurance adjusters - even though we'd actually be far better fucking writers than we would at those jobs. And apparently job satisfaction means nothing to some people.
posted by crossoverman at 2:51 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


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