Meal plan: $1,457
The sun: $3,381
FASFA BE LIKE : $14.78
HEY HEY HEY WELCOME TO MY LIFE. HEY HEY HEY.(via randomlancila)
This is disgustingly relevant to my life.
The other day I read an article about the second closing of the Prince Music Theatre since I first arrived in Philadelphia four years ago. The article compounded this news with discussions of the struggle of other theatre companies and artists in the Philadelphia scene, most notably the not so secret industry secret that Philadelphia Theatre Company, one of the four LORT theatres in Philadelphia is inching dangerously close to bankruptcy. (For those of you who don’t know what LORT means, it’s the equity classification for Regional theatre, basically the largest and biggest budget theatres your going to find outside of New York.) This is the result of moving into a beautiful giant theatre space when they definitely had not raised enough money to able to afford it.
The article also focused on several local theatre artists, essentially saying to them “Hey, the industry you chose to dedicate your life to is financially unstable and risky. How do you feel about that?” The general concessus was “Well duh, but if we worried about that we wouldn’t be artists,” I guarantee you that any artist you ask is going to say the same thing. It’s that reality that is a fundamental aspect of being an artist.
The whole article had this really gross pessimistic feeling to it. It basically concluded that similar to Philadelphia Theatre Companies dismal looking future, the future of Philly Theatre as a whole is also pretty scary looking.
Perhaps, as a recent graduate with a theatre degree whose current work in the industry is largely unpaid, and is currently struggling to support himself, I might not be in a position to disagree with that sentiment. And yet, every single fiber of my being urges me to call bullshit.
Philly theatre is going to be fine. Some might even go as far as to say its booming. There are just so many factors that the article ignores, there are so many things going down in Philly theatre that goes way beyond the obvious risks of “being an artist.” And one doesn’t have to look far! In fact, just a couple blocks north of PTC’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre, The Wilma Theatre is having some great successes. It had an incredible season this past year, highlights including Danai Gurira’s The Convert and the world premier of Paula Vogel’s new play Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq (which is destined for Broadway and will probably win Tonys). As they’re pulling out all the artistic stops (including a giant constantly shifting mechanical platform) to produce awe inspiring theatre, is the Wilma suffering financially? No! In fact they just announced their Wintix program, a grant which will allow them to dramatically reduce ticket prices for the next couple seasons.$25 for general public and $10 for students, seniors and industry? Are you kidding me? Affordable tickets? Check
Or how out the Arden, who continuously produces 7 shows a year including two children’s shows? Building young audiences. Check!
Or perhaps you’re into fringier theatre? Welp the organization behind the Philadelphia Fringe Festival established a year round presence this year, starting with the opening of a brand new theatre space.
But no… Philly theatre could be tanking any minute now, or at least that’s what Philly newswrites seem to want is to believe.
Maybe it’s my position as an emerging artist that affords me some naïveté and optism but there’s so many things I see about this situation with the Prince and PTC, and looking nationally, companies like San Jose Rep. These aren’t signs that theatre is dying. It’s a sign that its changing. Or at least in desperate need of change. People have been saying for years that the Regional Theatre System is failing and that’s because it is. It’s failed to adapt to a world where if I want to be told a story, I can tap the screen on my iPad a couple times and boom: I’m watching the new season of Hemlock Grove. The next generation of potential theatre audiences has become accustomed to cheap instant gratification storytelling. Why the heck woukd they pay $30 or more to be locked in a room with strangers for two hours… Or 90 minute… Or 60 minutes…
I could spend an entire article/blog post/essay/whatever the this is discussing the myriad of ways to get this very important demographic into the theatre (and probably will) but it seems that the only effort the Regional theatre system as a whole in this country seems to be making to draw the attention of the young folk is to make plays shorter to match our attention spans, which has incredibly patronizing implications. Other than that, they’d rather continue to satiate the mob of 60+ year old white people we in the theatre refer to as “subscribers” with riskless vanilla storytelling. To be quite frank, that is the last demographic we need to be focusing on as an artform if were to live up to our purpose of fostering conversations and social change. (Just remember theatre is mostly nonprofit for a reason.) The future does not rest in the hands of old white people. And if it does, I think history suggests that it shouldn’t.
As a result of us continuously only being as brave as ours subscriber, our artform has begun to stagnate. We’re decades behind other popular art forms both artistically and functionally. Regional theatres have been telling the same kinds of stories for the past 30 years, while film continues to experiment with genres, motifs, and styles and Videogames are quickly coming into their own in terms of narrative storytelling. And thenlooking at the the technical things like marketing and the fact that theatres are stilling relying on the archaic posters and post cards, instead of focusing on things that really grab people’s attention, like I don’t know… VIDEO TRAILERS? This problem is only compounded by medieval Equity and licensing rules regarding recording of performances. Perhaps maybe even some viral marketing? The Internet is a tool people, it’s not some scary theatre company eating monster.
It’s really almost easy to see how these news writers can become so pessimistic. But they fail to make the most important connection of all: the reason why regional theatres are dropping like flies across the countries isn’t because of some mysterious force of bad mojo sweeping an artform. It’s because these theatres refuse to change. They refuse to tell stories that upset the hoard of subscriber zombies. The’re afraid to lower ticket prices because they don’t know how else to raise money (I’ll say it again. The internet can be a very powerful tool.) They buy giant glorified picture frames they can’t afford and the wonder why audiences would rather look through their screens at home. It’s a simple Darwinistic concept. Adapt or die. Regional theatres are afraid to adapt. So they die. The ones that do (like the Wilma) survive and continue.
At this years Humana Festival of New American Plays, Anne Bogart said that we are reaching a new era in theatre, that there’s a new style that doesn’t quite have a name yet. As we go through this transition, we’re not unlike a snake. As it grows and adapts, it needs to shed some dead skin. Instead of mourning the loss of the Prince, and dreading the potential loss of PTC, we shoukd view them as shed skin. A reminder of old times, and a sign of continuous growth.