How many times have you gone to the theatre to see a play, spent between twenty and one hundred dollars only to find yourself thoroughly bored and feel that two to three hours of your life have been stolen from you?
For theatre artists, it takes some courage to admit that they often hate going to the theatre. I am one such artist. Though I make my living in the theatre, have spent seven years of formal education in top schools, studying theatre and have developed and own two schools for theatre, I can say that the vast majority of theatre I see, I wish I had not and had done something else with my time and money instead. Nonetheless, I continue to go, as it is necessary that I do. I have to keep a current perspective of goings ons. And every now and then, I will see something that changes my life, making sorting through the mess all worth it.
I have absolutely felt such…many, many times. I know a lot of one-time theatre going audience members who have felt the same, leads those could be loyalists to not want to return to the theatre–in fear of wasting money and paying to be bored.
From my perspective, there are several key reasons as to why theatre is often so bad.
Talent is rare. There is good and there is great. Often “good” is not good enough…especially when paying high ticket prices. I want to feel that I am getting significant value from my hard earned money.
Plays are often too dated. I refer to the countless productions of classics produced and the many museum pieces that have long since had their time in the sun. Where are the contemporary writers? I will tell you: Most are in Hollywood. They are making a living from writing for TV and film. Can you blame them for wanting to make a nice living from their craft? They have, in large numbers, abandoned the theatre, which leaves us with much fewer quality writers, necessitating that we, again, revisit the classics.
Theatres often appeal to the lowest common denominator. Theatre is a business like any other. Because it costs so much to produce in large venues with sizable overhead, producers are concerned with their considerable bottom line. They need to put lots and lots of butts in seats (coupled with aggressively soliciting support from the kindness of strangers and loyal supporters) in order to break even (or hopefully) generate a profit. I should note that without these donations, most theatres around the country would fail (via their current business models). This appeal to the lowest common denominator is evidenced in the modern trend of turning movies into musicals. Simply look to Broadway and many regional theatres around the country.
There is an audience delivering a demand for “Deadly Theatre”. This from British theatre director Peter Brook:
There is also a deadly spectator who helps kill drama. He is the theatergoer whose only conception of good theater is that it be nice, decent, reassuring and uplifting, but never marrow-chilling or soul-devouring. Playwrights themselves propagate dead plays, since most of them cannot fulfill the single most demanding requisite of vital drama: “A playwright is required by the very nature of drama to enter into the spirit of opposing characters. He is not a judge; he is a creator. The job of shifting oneself totally from one character to another—a principle on which all of Shakespeare and all of Chekhov is built —is a superhuman task at any time.” What makes the playwright’s task more difficult today is the death of certain theatrical conventions: “The lukewarm virtues of good craftsmanship, sound construction, effective curtains, crisp dialogue have all been thoroughly debunked.
For as long as anyone living can remember, people have said that theatre is dying. It is not dying. However, it is not growing. As a theatre artist, determined to make a life in the theatre, I and other theatre artists strongly desire to see theatre grow…and thrive.
We need more and greater writers and we need more vision realized. We need to see theatres taking greater risks–taking risks by exploring relevant material that will appeal to a changing demographic and modern needs. We need new and relevant aesthetics that appeal to modern (and younger) audiences, so as to invest in audiences for not just the present, but the future. We need greater vision and need to encourage such vision to manifest.
All of these needs can be, and should be, addressed in the educational environment.
To be fair, there are good schools out there that have excellent teachers who are inspiring a new generation of theatre artists.
However, there is also a lot of crap. There are tons of professional teachers out there who have not participated in their craft or pushed the boundaries of their medium in years. They are products of a bygone era, one that tends to copy itself again and again, out of safety and a desire to preserve the status quo.
A solution for change? We, the educators, need to teach artists how to create original works (to become theatre-makers) and how to be self sufficient in producing those works–for profit. Entrepreneurial Theatre training fills this gap and addresses this need.
Will this be an instant fix to boring theatre? No, hardly. However, what such a process will generate is a larger number of artists who play an active leadership role and who take responsibility for building original works that stem from their own sensibilities, vision, imaginations and interests, which simultaneously appeal to an audience (perhaps niche audiences with common interests). Certainly, many artists are doing this right now. However, with more entering the market, who know not just how to create such work, but also how to make a living from such, we will, inevitably, see greater and more frequent exciting advances. Such advances may just help the medium stay vibrant and relevant for years to come.
For all of the reasons articulated in this post, I built my first school, The International Theatre Academy Norway. In building this school, I strove to create the school, in many ways, I wish I had gone to. It is my belief that, as long as the faculty of my schools and I always strive to offer the schooling we wish we had gone to, schooling that is relevant to today’s artists and audiences, that we will be in a good position as an educational institution and will remain relevant and vital. Hopefully, too, we will aide in producing new theatrical visionaries and vision which will, in time, help revitalize and change theatre, preserving and reinventing the medium in the process. Such is the responsibility of any educational institution for theatre that is worth its salt.
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway.