Thursday, November 17, 2005

Daily fare or special event?

November 17, 2005
followspot@hotmail.com

Some believe theatre should be an everyday part of people’s lives, like TV, movies. Others celebrate theatre as a “special event,” where making a big deal of going is requisite to the ritual. Which experience do you favor? Why? How can they complement each other within a company or community?

29 comments:

jeff said...

I look at it like church: some people build their lives around it, some people just like it, some people don't believe, and some people "keep meaning to go".

alvie s. said...

Unfortunately, theatre, or at least, good, interesting theatre, seems to require a bit more intellectual engagement than tv or movies usually demand. So they look on it as they might look on seeing a foreign film or watching a special on pbs; they take pride in doing something cultural and educational, but simply aren't used to having to work to understand.

also, w/ movies & tv, you have a pretty good idea of what you're going to get when you go in....theatre, not so much...

Darius said...

Precisely the motivation behind the trailers I've been producing with Theatre Vertigo. Though there are a ton of other reasons why movies grab larger audiences than theatre...

About the question, I like both types of theatre experiences. For me, going to a Broadway show or to the Keller is an event. Going to most local theatre is part of my life. And I think there are parallel examples in visual art or music or film. There's certainly a place for both and I enjoy both, though lean towards the daily over the ritual... I think the trick for theatre artists is trying to grow the base of people for whom theatre is a part of their life or at least on their radar screen - a consideration for a Friday night.

I completely agree with Jeff and the Church is always trying to attract paritioners.

(151 words... way over...)

a.s. said...

well, so what are those "tons of reasons," and how do we use them to attract partitioners? crank up the "star system," which used to be a huge factor in drawing theatre crowds, and is, in my opinion, what draws people religiously to films (guilty myself)? serve popcorn and let people make out in the back row?

i still say it's easier to know what you're getting with a film or show than a production. even being completely familiar with the script, AND liking the actors, you can get a lousy production....

a.s. said...

ahem. and, of course, by "partitioners," which isn't a word at all, i mean "parishioners."

darius said...

If theatre was to make a stronger effort to let people know what they were in for, it could become just as easy. That comes down to marketing budgets. And a movie can be just as lousy as a play - even if you know the script and like the actors.

Some other reasons (in my humble opinion and from near the top of my head): Movies are cheaper. You can go see a movie whenever you want. You can enter late. You can eat and drink. You can go to the bathroom with impunity. You can talk about a movie with lots more people after you see it. It's cheaper! Usually, it's less audience demanding. There's no "etiquette" to be scared of (or audience participation :)). Local theater has no "star power" unless you're involved with theater. And the marketing of film is HUGE. (How many people would go to the theater if marketing budgets were on the same continent?) And the advanced marketing. And the longevity. And the built in self-perpetuating industries of video and DVD and cable. And websites. And it's cheaper!!

A lot of those are inherent to the medium. I think it's dangerous to compare movies and theatre too heavily. Theatre will never compete with film. But where we can take from their successes, like trailers or varying start times or advanced marketing... Education is a huge factor, too. Kids'll learn about movies on their own. Seems to me if parents and schools introduce children to theatre regularly, they'll be far more likely to maintain it as a part of their lives.

... must... stop... typing... other things... to do... who want to read... my drivel?...

a.s. said...

but this is my point, exactly! this "etiquette" of which you speak, these rules, and of course, above all, the cost, is why, for most theatre goers, an evening at the theatre will always be an event, whereas goin' to see a movie is more of a casual passtime. The "audience participation" exists in every show, implicitly if not explicitly. Therefore, it's less attractive in a society that seeks escape and respite in entertainment. not to mention, it's more expensive...

darius said...

Ah! I didn't realize that was your point, and I basically agree with you. I think there's more to it than that (i.e. above). And I think that while it's currently that way, it won't always be - because I think the perception of that divide is greater than the truth of it.

Okay. Really leaving now. Nice chatting :)

Neal said...

I have had this same conversation numerous times over the last couple of years with Darius and many others. He and I agree on a great many points here. I look at Portland culture in general and see a place that values artistic expression and homegrown artists, but theatre seems to be the exception to this rule. I ask myself "what does independant film and music offer the people here that theatre does not?". I always come back to ticket price and formality of environment. Often, for $5-10, at a film or live music event, you can arrive late, come and go, eat and drink, talk to your neighbor, in some venues smoke, etc.
Now what can theatre do to match or compete with this kind of accessibility? Being part of a small theatre myself, it's hard to imagine doing it much cheaper and still providing consistency. How about the environment? Who is this formality really serving? The performers? I've performed "serious dramatic" material in smokey bars with people gabbing and the ice machine crashing every 20 min. I felt able to sustain my performance, and the audience seemed to enjoy the shows just fine. The audience? That's the whole reason we're having this conversation; people seem to prefer many less formal kinds of entertainment to theatre. Why shouldn't people make out in the back row if they want to? The more I think about it, the more I think it's time cabaret be expanded beyond musical revue and variety acts, and be seriously considered as a medium for providing extended live story-telling to the general public.
OK, now, like Darius, I feel I've ranted and raved enough, and also my boss is starting to give me the evil eye so...

Follow Spot said...

So .... here's another loaded question ... should theatre cater to the lowest common denominator in order to reach a larger audience?

Personally, I have such conflicting feelings -- I agree -- and disagree -- with all that's been said. I love theatre as an event. Artistically, I believe in that. Realistically, socially, I also support the concept of an everyday action. I want it to be special, but I also want to be comfortable wearing jeans and eating a candy bar.

Recently published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer:


An Urban Institute study, "Motivation Matters," found that arts organizations can best build audiences by persuading visitors to come more often, rather than trying to woo a wider range of one-time or infrequent visitors.

People who frequently attend arts events are likelier to become donors, research found; only 11 percent of infrequent arts-event consumers were donors, compared with 47 percent of frequent attendees.

The study also found that people attend different types of arts events for different reasons. The study concluded that arts groups wishing to turn audiences into frequent visitors need to heighten the particular kind of satisfaction those visitors seek from their cultural experiences.

For instance, 68 percent of theatergoers surveyed said they attended plays as a way of socializing. Only 36 percent said they went to the theater to gain knowledge. By contrast, 65 percent of those who went to museums said they did so because they strongly desired to learn something new.

The study found that a large number of blacks and other minorities attended arts events to learn specifically about their own heritage. Only 15 percent of whites said the same thing.

But the report warns organizations that they cannot expect to add isolated, minority-friendly events to their schedules and see an automatic increase in attendance by minorities.

Venue also has an effect: Certain venues, such as clubs, restaurants and coffeehouses, drew far more frequent arts- goers than other settings.



You can read the whole cultural participation findings report free at
the Urban Institute.

darius said...

In open defiance of my decision to stay away... I agree with much of what Neal said - as he said I would...

I artistically, realistically, and socially, believe in theatre as both an event and everyday action. I'd hate to see theatre restricted to either. I just think non-theatre-goers believe it's only the former.

I also take great umbrage with the idea that people who want to smoke, drink, wear jeans, and leave are the lowest common denominator. But it's a good question. Who are we doing this for? Do we want to have to teach people how to view theatre before they feel they can enjoy it? If what we offer over other mediums is the live experience shared together with live people, then why do we need to have the setting that's the least condusive to personal interaction? I don't know...

I'm thinking as I type, so I might not agree with myself tomorrow. And just by posting again, I've clearly shown you can't take my word for anything.

Neal said...

My boss left...
The term "lowest common denominator" is loaded in and of itself considering the various connotations of "low", also somewhat unclear as used. Lowest common denominator of whom? Of the general entertainment consuming public? I don't think theatre is too good for them, in fact, I think it might not be good enough.
And what about the L.C.D. of current theatre goers? Those to which theatres are currently catering. Those that may insist on "church" being so formal and stuffy and "traditional" that their children may grow up thinking of it as a total bore they have no interst in attending.
Ack, I'm ranting again, and starting to over-edit myself out of clearly phrased...uh, yeah, I'm stopping again.

a.s. said...

Ai! Yes, while I agree with Darius that the Mediums of film and theatre should not necessarily be compared, i think there is something to be said about they type of crowds they attract and what needs they fulfill. Because, let's face it, Hollywood came in and lured away the unwashed masses that USED to be in the theatre. Hence, the infamous "third balcony." Hence the Astor Place riot where people were killed! over Shakespeare!

Basically, what, historically, draws crowds? What was happening in the theatre when theatre was best-attended?: Melodrama, spectacle, and stars stars stars! What's pulling people to films en masse? Melodrama/broad comedy, special fx, and Ben Affleck.

So theatre got to be the home of formalism. Experimentation, post-modernism, intellectualism. Now film is taking that on, too. It's a concern! I don't think it's going to get better, I think it's going to get worse!

Follow Spot said...

Our posts were crossing, so "lowest common denominator" didn't really refer to smoking, drinking and jeans-wearing crowd, god (lower-case intended) bless us all. I'm writing as I'm thinking, too, so my choice of words hasn't seen the benefit of an editor or even reflection .... so let's scratch the LCD phrase ...

Moving on ...

What stood out for me from that news story about the report (the report that I haven't read yet) is:

For instance, 68 percent of theatergoers surveyed said they attended plays as a way of socializing. Only 36 percent said they went to the theater to gain knowledge.

"Socializing" is a pretty loose term, too, and funny to apply to an event where, typically, we all come together to sit down and shut up.

Sure, some of our theatres have special soiree nights with meet-and-greets before or after, but we're just poking at the bubble, I think.

Along the lines of this conversation, I'd love to hear some re-envisioning of the whole theatre experience from the moment one walks in the door. From the roots of cabaret and vaudeville and all other lines of theatre, maybe we can develop a new "Portland Pub Theatre" .... (and our slogan, appropriately, would be "something special every day" ........) Heheh -- Where are the McMenamin brothers when you need em? :)

(This is what happens when posting from work -- random, only-loosely-connected thoughts ... And, like Darius, tomorrow I may turn 180 and beg for the return of long-sleeve gloves, tails and opera glasses.)

Nate said...

Ooooooo! Opera Glasses!!

(Sorry - I rarely have anything to contribute.)

Well, actually, I will contribute this: I've had this vision in my head that has been dancing around for quite some time now - like sugarplums. Well, not like sugarplums, because I really don't know what those are. And, honestly, is that BEST thing that could dance in your head? So this dancing vision is not quite like sugarplums. It's more like - strippers. Yes. It's like strippers dancing in my head.

Anyways. You ever go to a movie theater just to go to any movie? I used to do this all the time. I'd get dinner, then go to the multiplex to see ... anything. Whatever was playing when I showed up. Now, I don't want to compare the two mediums, but I'm going to: What if we had a theater that always played SOMETHING? Maybe not every hour on the hour, but every night at 7, something was going on.

Oh well. A little wet dream I have from time to time; nothing to be taken seriously. I also think it would be neat if I could hang out with Geena Davis. Not Geena Davis, Geena Davis. But the character she played in Transylvania 6-5000. Anyone remember that?

a.s. said...

Tasty.

I think what we need is a theatre community reality tv show that will, through its endless spinoffs, turn us all into minor celebreties, or major ones, whatever you like. You know, follow us around and show how hard we work, the vast variety of fascinating feats that fill our days, and of course, the extraneous sums of money we make to support our glamorous and extravagent lifestyles.....THAT's the way to catch the public eye....

Strippers would be good, too....

La Foi said...

This is all very interesting! I think about this a lot. A few thoughts:

There are some places where theatre still is thriving. I was recently in Poland, where lots and lots of people go to see theatre. For one thing, a lot of it's free. For another, a lot of it is outdoor spectacle-based theatre, so as the audience you can be drunk, you can heckle, you can talk to your friends, you can do whatever you want. And also, the expectation is not put on the audience to be knowledgeable and worthy. That responsibility is placed squarely on the performing artists. It is your job to draw people in and excite them, and if they're not excited, it's your own damn fault. A lot of shows there are unbelievably bad-ass, and the excitement of people waiting to see them is comparable to an audience waiting to see a U2 show. But a lot of shows are not good, and the audience is not shy about making this clear by heckling, walking away or just not applauding. I feel like this is what makes theatre there so exciting. It is part of everyday life, but also offers the kind of socializing and ritual and excitement that we all crave. Well, I think we do. I mean, you can go to a film and heckle, but will Gwyneth Paltrow hear you? No.

Anyway, the question for me is how do we tap into that energy here in the US? Personally, I find it more useful to compare theatre to music than to film. Live music shows are not in any danger of dying out, and the popularity of CDs and recorded music have not threatened their popularity at all; if anything, they heighten it. People love to buy CDs, and they love to see bands play live. Why? Because they are two totally different experiences.

This is the direction I think we have to go as theatre artists. I love the theatre pub idea. That is what theatre needs: BEER.

Anyway, now MY boss is giving me the evil eye, so I'd better stop...

Follow Spot said...

How about serial theatre ... Like TV, but live and no reruns. Plus you can see characters (and therefore actors) grow over time. Maybe Saturday mornings -- over cereal (talk about having to project -- all that crunching!) ... And just like a TV series, each episode is self-contained, but also with larger story arcs ... so if you see just one or see them all, or see them sporadically ... it's OK.

There's a kernal of truth in this and what Nate says .. where I work, we have a standing program every week and people have made it so much a part of their lives that they don't care what's playing, they come out of tradition, out of habit, out of knowing that there will always be something of interest, or at least someone of interest sitting next to them. That plays to the "socializing" aspect the report mentions and to making theatre a part of our everyday (or at least once a week) lives. We have a core group that comes every week regardless, and we have larger crowds for the 'special event' programs .... An interesting parallel...

Now, if we could just serve beer ... (actually, we DID, once -- and people were tickled!)

So Darius, Neal, and all .... When can we expect Theatre Vertigo to open a cash bar? :)

Follow Spot said...

As I delve deeper into that report I cited earlier, here's another interesting nugget:

"57 percent of those who attended a play said a major reason they went was that they thought it would be emotionally rewarding, but only 43 percent said that it was. Understanding why people fail to have the experiences that bring them to a particular (art) form is critical to figuring out how to make their experiences better and thus foster more attendance."

Darius said...

Actually, Vertigo does serve beer and wine at all of our shows. And you can bring 'em into the theater! :)

I love what "le foi" said. In that type of situation, there's even more risk and even more give and take with the audience. I don't know how to tap into that here, but I'll bet a lot of their ability to do that comes from funding. Spectacle for free requires serious support - especially if it's going to be okay for the audience to openly not like it.

I hear what Nate's saying, too. There aren't every night of the week theatres, but there are spaces that have something practically every weekend. I think one of the keys there is that you could go have dinner whenever you want, take as long as you want, and show up at the movies whenever you happen to. With theater, it's basically 8:00 pm or nothing.

I'd love to see a serial theatre series, though that's essentially all that those actors/writers would be able to do and that's a huge commitment... In 1999, Vertigo did Larry and the Werewolf and every week of that run was the next episode in a series... I wasn't here then... I wouldn't like to see any of these ideas push out the type of theatre that is currently here in the US and Portland, but added to it... eh?

On a separate note, with the exception of large prosceniums like the two in the PCPA, how come almost all theaters are designed so you have to cross the stage to get out? I can think of a couple of times I would have gone to the bathroom if I could have gotten in and out without crossing the stage. Let's all remember that next time we're building a theater :)

p.s. (not that that makes sense since there was no "s.", but...) Nate, you're hilarious... and I remember.

Nate said...

"57 percent of those who attended a play said a major reason they went was that they thought it would be emotionally rewarding, but only 43 percent said that it was. Understanding why people fail to have the experiences that bring them to a particular (art) form is critical to figuring out how to make their experiences better and thus foster more attendance."

Is that 43 percent of those who thought it would be emotionally rewarding? Or is that 43 percent of the entire house?

I wonder how the reasons for going to theatre compare with the reasons for going to the movies. Not that I'm comparing the two. Now that I sit down to think about it (I hate standing), I expect SO much more out of theatre than I do film. Why is that? Is it because I'm cheap, and I want my dollar to go as far as it can? (You better not answer that!) Would I feel the same way if tickets were five dollars each? Did it ever thrive in this town? What made it do so? What do you want for Hanukkah? And, finally, when is my mother going to stop calling?!

"Follow Spot said: 'There's a kernal of truth in this and what Nate says ...'"

:) I'm blushing!

darius said...

In the interest of full full disclosure, I should have said, "Actually, Vertigo did serve beer and wine at all of our shows. And you could bring 'em into the theater! :)"

The future of that practice in question for legal and - god knows - not artistic or puritanical reasons. Just in case anyone was planning on coming to the theater, buying a beer and leaving before the show...

heather rose said...

I'm probably jumping on a dead topic, but here are my random thoughts:

Most movie theatres don't serve beer. ?? or am I missing something?

The real question is here is: Where do people choose to spend their entertainment dollars? And why?

Ideas: Watching live theatre is (generally perceived to be) a more cerebral commitment than going to a film or concert. In theatre you are expected to be more well-mannered, no food, no whispering, no getting up to go to the bathroom, no making out in the back row. In theatre, you are expected to be attentive, alert, engaged. Maybe that is too much pressure for someone on a Saturday night who wants to blow off steam after a long work week. Maybe people are by-and-large tired, and they prefer a quick, easy rush of adrenaline over intellectual stimulation.

(Not that all theatre is intellectually stimulating or that film isn't. We know better than to compare the best of one with the worst of the other.)

If I were to compare going to the theatre with another event, it would be going to the symphony. And who the hell does that?

How do we get more people to the theatre? I fuc*&%g hate to market art. But that's what I think it would take. There needs to be a big campaign, a push to bring in first-time theatre goers (not geared towards one individual show, but to all local theatre.) Demystify the experience.

$10 tickets for first time theatre goers! Free tickets to high school seniors! Bring a friend to the theatre day (Expose Your Friends Day). "Come experience live theatre." blah blah blah blah blah

A woman from my office just turned 61. She came to see a show I was in this year and it was her first live theatre performance. She is bringing her teenage granddaughter to the next one.

Once people are exposed to and stimulated by live theatre, will they still choose to go to the movies? More often than not. But I definitely believe that exposure will generate interest. We have to beg borrow steal and coerce new people into the audience.

(with Strippers?)

p.s. I just thought of something funny. What if we advertised a play by comparing it to a movie, like this: "If you liked Million Dollar Baby, you're gonna love Golden Boy!"

I kid. That's gross.

heather rose said...

so basically i just repeated what everyone else said. ;)

i'd seriously love for theatre companies have a conference to discuss this issue though. how can we all increase our audiences? what efforts can we take together? maybe PATA will take the reigns on this one.

darius said...

Not to speak for PATA, but they have had advertised meetings about this very thing. The first tangible result being the Play-Date - the ad for which ran this past Friday for the first time! Hopefully the discussion will continue to get out of the boards and into the city.

K. said...

More beer!

heather rose said...

sweet! why isn't everyone participating? or are they? i'm always a step behind.

PATA site says:

PORTLAND PLAY DATE
come play local

The Portland Play Date campaign aims to combine resources of participating theaters to effectively reach potential new audience members and promote the idea of local theater as an easily accessible entertainment opportunity. The first campaign event and ad placement in the Oregonian took place on November 18th. The more theaters that are involved the more successful the campaign will be for all of Portland theater!

Follow Spot said...

Upon reflection, I have to say that there are some theatre offerings to which I think a rowdy environment would be suitable, and some where I think I'd prefer the status quo. That's one reason I don't go to movies much any more -- I'm easily distracted by everyone talking, eating and making out. If they allowed smoking, I have to say I wouldn't go at all. But I know that's just me and my personal preferences, so in the spirit of last week's holiday, let me just say that I'm thankful for the diversity of theatre -- of which you can see right now on Portland stages. And thanks to everyone for all their great comments on this thread and others. If you like these little dialogues, I have a couple more items up my sleeve, which I can sprinkle amidst some upcoming reviews. (Or, if you have a suggestion for a general discussion topic, drop me an e-mail to followspot@hotmail.com).

Anonymous said...

I'd have to say that one of the most fun nights of theater-going I've had in the past year was going to see SuperEgo's "Blaze of Awesome" for many of the reasons mentioned (much) earlier in this conversation. Performed at the Fez, with couches instead of formal rows of seating, a full bar in the back, smoking and going to the bathroom permitted. The big bonus: after the show, there was dancing. So people stayed to dance after coming to see the show, BUT ALSO, people who came to dance saw at least part of the show, and asked both audience and performers more about it. It was a great hook for those people who ended up liking the show but weren't normally theater-goers.

I was terribly impressed with the whole she-bang's ability to provide a varied and well-rounded night out.
The show itself was also quite good, that's just not my main point.