About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Supply & Demand

While I'm at it I wanted to jump on this bandwagon: Speaking at a conference about new play development at Arena Stage in Washington on Thursday, Mr. Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, addressed the problem of struggling theaters. “You can either increase demand or decrease supply,” he said. “Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply.”

Now, I work for a tiny theatre company trying to establish a foothold in the over-saturated Los Angeles Theatre community. I agree, there's a lot of theater going on around here, and it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most L.A. theater companies exist for one of two reasons:

a) because someone came up with one good idea, started a company for the purpose of putting up that one show, and then don't do another one for ages
b) as a showcase to get picked up for TV and film work.

Once you weed out those, what you have left is companies like mine that just love putting on good shows. We are also why you'll never be able to decrease supply, even in tough economic times; because people love to create art. No matter if you're living in poverty or the middle of war, humans have always still gotten together and acted out stories, or sang songs, or found one piece of charcoal with which to scratch the contents of their soul down on something. Even when there's no one around to see, artists will keep going.

As I started to get into in my last post, there's a huge disparity between the people who make theatre, and people who go to see it. A friend of mine who's in New York now reported back on his experience seeing American Idiot (he didn't want to miss Billie Joe Armstrong, who had joined the cast for a short stint), and commented how both glorious and bleak it was to see something as angry and rough-edged as Green Day's music put in a format peddled to suburban tourists. I remember that the theater I interned with in college, though popular, struggled with new or edgy material because the audiences wanted to see something comfortable and familiar, like Oklahoma or My Fair Lady.

I'm not sure what it's going to take to get audiences excited about new theater, but even if all audiences ever want to eat is MacDonalds, we're going to keep on making foie gras.


  1. I'm sure there's a big mental barrier to a lot of people in going to the theater... especially if you haven't done it often in the past. It's going to be expensive, the seats are uncomfortable, I don't know the show, it takes a long time. Similar to going to the movies, except with films you can read reviews, hear buzz online, and watch trailers to get an idea of what's worth your while. I think the idea of making YouTube trailers for plays and musicals is a great one, since people can see a bit of what's going to happen before they commit. Also, maybe getting away from the traditional "black box with tiny hard seats" setting when possible - people LOVE Shakespeare in the Park, even though the material is fairly challenging. There's some assurance of quality, since it's the Bard, and the novelty of picknicking outside. I love the movie theaters where you can sit on a couch and have pizza and beer when you watch - could that setting work for live theater too?

  2. Yeah, that's part of why musicals of films have been so prolific lately; it's "safe" to spend your money on a ticket for something if you already know you like the film it's based on.

    Good marketing is important (Youtube videos, thorough description & production photos on your website) so that audiences know what to expect when they come to see your shows.

    It also sounds like there's 3 key elements to come see new shows:

    1- exciting new material
    2- exciting new version of old material
    3- unique viewing experience

    Sound about right?

  3. Definitely! The last live show I saw was Spielpalast Cabaret in VT... the material was new, but it was a familiar genre (cabaret/burlesque), had positive reviews and good buzz, so I had some reasonable assurance we would like it. And it was at an interesting venue, a theater that also has a full restaurant and bar so you can get food and drinks. (Of course, that works better with a cabaret show than with, say, a serious family drama.)