You can’t say it’s because you’re “too busy,” because, really, who isn’t?
You can’t use the tired line, “It’s too expensive!” because there are a myriad of ways to obtain deeply discounted tickets (I personally rely on my youthful demeanor and pristinely conditioned student ID).
You could say that “there’s nothing good out there,” and I might humor you for a few minutes, but then I’ll tell you exactly why you should be going to the theatre — regardless of quality, cost, or time-related issues.
If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re involved with the theatre in some way (and if you’re not, bless you for reading anyway) — and you don’t go to the theatre, or if you do, you do so rarely. I know precisely two people who attend theatre as often as I do (about twice a week) and yet I’m surrounded by those who claim theatre as their chosen profession. So what’s the deal?
As an actor, isn’t seeing others’ work a form of training? You can take as many classes as you’d like, but one of the best ways to learn is to watch others at work — to see and understand their inspired choices, to learn from their misguided mistakes, to expand your own knowledge or experience of a play into something more informed, more complex, more fully-realized.
For directors, isn’t it similarly beneficial to discover others’ view points and visions?
As a designer, doesn’t one need to see others’ designs at work within a production?
For playwrights, isn’t it absolutely necessary to be aware of other writers’ techniques, styles, and topics? And not just on the page — but to see how the written word translates (successfully or not) to the stage?
It baffles when I don’t see my peers at the theatre. Because as much as we moan about and belittle the critics and what they say about any given production, the reality is that they are attending productions night after night. They may not have been trained in the theatre (and we can certainly argue about the definition and value of formal training), but their perpetual status as audience members has allowed them to develop sharp, critical eyes for what does and does not work, and yes, their attendance and consideration have awarded them the right, in turn, to voice their opinions. As much and as frequently as they may infuriate me, 9 out of 10 times I’d rather hear what a critic has to say about a piece of theatre than any one of the theatre professionals I know, because the critics possess up-to-date awareness of where the theatre is in this exact moment, who the artists are, and what they’re trying to accomplish.
Years ago, I worked under an artistic director who informed me that not only does he not attend theatre, ever, but he doesn’t even like it. Any day of the week, he casually divulged, he’d much rather watch a football game than see a show.
Recently, while expressing my excitement over a writer-friend’s good fortune with Playwrights Horizons, an actor-acquaintance casually responded with “what’s Playwrights Horizons?”
When I raved about the recent production of Blasted at Soho Rep, another artist nonchalantly revealed that she’d never heard of Sarah Kane.
No, we cannot create art in a vacuum.
Even beyond that: how can we ask others, in this time of economic hardship, to support our art and attend our shows if we’re not supporting and attending theirs? How can we be alarmed or frustrated when theatre attendance is down if we are not doing our part to raise it?
It’s time we start supporting, and learning from, each other. It’s time we start going to the theatre.