I was recently asked to describe my ideal theatrical experience versus and revenue generating theatrical experience, and if I thought the 2 could ever meet. Obviously, I think they have to, so this is what I said:
To me, an ideal theatre experience is one that communicates meaning. This may be in the beauty of the work, the challenge of the subject matter, the sheer skill of the artists, or the suspension of disbelief and a creation of a world where things are a bit more as we wish they were. A revenue-generating theatre experience, while not omitting the opportunity for ideal experiences, often relies on tried and true season schedules, audience favorites and classics. Very little time and even fewer resources are allocated to risk-taking or exploration.
This often forces a struggle between art for art’s sake and commercial viability. I believe these viewpoints do not have to be mutually exclusive. I believe theatre education and outreach programs will make theatre experiences desirable both for aesthetic content and economic sustainability. When young people are exposed to the arts, they gain an appreciation for it. In a theatre class they learn the work that goes into creating a play, ie, research, reading, rehearsing, musicianship, dance skills, set, light, sound and costume design, etc. Having firsthand knowledge of the effort required to create a final product develops a level of appreciation for the art the a layperson lacks.
As these children mature, they are not only the artists of the future, but its arts/art organization supporters. The life skills taught in theatre, ie, risk taking, creative thinking, creating meaning, etc., are important in these roles. These students will be the board members, administrators and philanthropists that take a chance on a new work or revive an underutilized classic. An informed and experienced citizenry will ensure that the arts are available, not just because they have the money to support them, but because the recognize the work and value learned and required in such endeavors. And as they become parents and teachers themselves, they will strive to teach these to next generation, creating new audiences, new students, new artists. For the sustainability of the art form, I believe an overlap must exist.
What do you think? Is bringing commericial viability and artistic excellence into the same moment an impossible dream? Or can we find an audience, or teach an audience, to value both?