Thursday, June 16, 2011

Are Revivals Killing Theatre?

cover bands are far less exciting than the real thing
I recently had a conversation with my boyfriend,who is decidedly not a theater fan, about what makes the experience of going to see a band better than going to a show.  I was surprised to hear his answer.  I fully expected something along the lines of, the atmosphere at a live music performance is different, or they serve beer and let you talk to your friends, but that was not the case.

He said (loosely quoted), "When you go to see a musician or a band play, you're seeing the artist perform something they wrote, something that's original and creative.  A play is just a bunch of performers rehashing something some dead guy wrote fifty years ago, or something that's based on a movie."

Ouch.  I argued that there were lots of new plays and musicals, and there's really exciting work that happens off-Broadway and around the country.  Unfortunately however, the majority of non-theater fans only know theater through Broadway, and Broadway's churned out a lot of revivals, and a lot of derivative works in the past decade.  Add to that the fact that it's often easier to get a star on board for a proven show title as opposed to a risky new project, and we're sending a message that revivals are king.  To add insult to injury, many of our regional theaters around the country stopped producing original works, or drastically cut back, in exchange for big Broadway tours that fill houses.  Most people just aren't seeing new theater, because we haven't made it a priority.

I'm not knocking revivals, it's important to pay tribute to great works of our past from time to time, but, when old material is getting in the way of new works, we're choking our art form to death.  If we don't provide more opportunities for living writers, composers and lyricists to put their work on stage, there won't be any living theater artists for long.  They will find other careers where they can get their work produced.  Additionally, what's cooler for an audience than being able to see the artist in person?  We can't provide that opportunity for many of the shows that are produced today.  One of the "wow" factors of live performance is lost.

We're failing our artists and our audiences.  What are we going to do about it?

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