Theatre has a bit of a PR problem.
People have a lot of preconceived notions about what it is and what it can do. I would even go so far as to generalize that most people have zero interest in watching plays. Often they imagine something stiff, lifeless and boring. They’d rather spend their $15 on a new Hollywood movie, full of all the lights, sounds and stimulation you could possibly want.
And to be honest, it’s really hard to blame them.
I come from a different background, but I am still frustrated by what I see. It’s sad to see the same faces in every crowd, at every play. This goes for the actors, yes, but mainly for the audiences. And it’s sad to see so much theatre that just isn’t any good.
The problem for the general public is exposure. Why don’t people want to see plays? Well, probably because they’ve never seen a play, or whatever idea they have of a play does not appeal to them.
It’s easy to consume television or movies causally. Their omnipresence makes it possible. Not so with theatre.
Any popular art that can equally be consumed as entertainment — that is, novels, comic books, television, movies, even video games — has a percentage breakdown of terrible, passable, okay, good or great works. Currently, that can extend to anything aesthetic, but it’s easiest to see in anything produced in an industry largely based around making money.
It’s cynical, but it’s the nature of the beast: most of these products will be bad or average. Few will be good. Fewer still will be truly inspired.
So where does it start? You begin dealing with the uncertain, unadventurous mind of the average person.
“It’s not my style,” you might hear. The appeal isn’t there because people don’t know there is something there to be appealing.
Perhaps more children should be taken to plays to learn it can be exhilarating or engrossing.
I like to be an idealist. It’s like being an optimist, but with more specifics in mind. I have seen and produced theatre I believe can do unique things for the performer and the audience, adding effects and questions that other storytelling mediums cannot.
I know I am not the only person frustrated by lack of interest or low ticket sales in the grand scheme of things. If you want more people to see your plays, make better plays. It starts there.
Theatres need to keep in mind that the vast majority of people aren’t going to give a dainty discharge if a play is a rough-and-racy David Mamet, a classic Eugene O’Neil or even the Reefer Madness Musical. It’s all going to sound like stuffy Shakespeare or bland, safe Neil Simon to them.
The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. The real audience to attract is not the fraction of the populous who are pleased by whatever they see, regardless of the play or its quality, but to the masses to whom sitting down for something alive and made in light before them would never occur to them.
If you’re not making theatre like you have something to prove, well, there’s something wrong. Theater definitely has something to prove — to the masses, to itself and to you. It may, sadly, come to begging.
Sorry for that in advance.