Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Real Problem with TBA's "Free Night of Theater"

(this post is in response to comments from TBA's Marketing Director Clay Lord regarding "Free Night of Theater")

The big problem with TBA's "Free Night of Theater" is that it in no way addresses the actual problem - it misses the forest for the tree.

The problem is this:

- Between 1982 and 2008, attendance at performing arts such as classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, musical theater, and dramatic plays has seen double-digit rates of decline.

- Fewer adults are creating and performing art. Only the share of adults doing photography has increased.

Yes, there are a myriad of reasons why this is the case - film, TV, and The Intertubes have all made entertainment cheap and easily accessible. Arts education in schools has declined as well, leaving many children without a chance to experience the arts growing up. As media continues its descent into the toilet, so does arts coverage, leaving the public less informed about what's going on.

However, the problem with all this and with the thinking behind "Free Night of Theater," is that it refuses to place any of the blame for the rapid decline in audience on the Theater Community itself.

And yes, the Theater Community holds at least some, if not a large part, of the blame.

The problem with TBA's "Free Night of Theater" is that instead of asking the Theater Community to take a look at itself with an honest and critical eye, it assumes that everything is right with Theater, it's just these other factors that are getting in the way, and that once we can show people how jaw droppingly awesome theater can be, the general public will have no choice but to succumb to their newfound lust for live performance and spend $70 on a ticket to MacBeth.


"#1 barrier to attendance as the price of admission, with the #2 being "I don't want to spend money on something I might not like." What this means, to me at least, is that there are a lot of people who don't know they like theatre because they don't feel like they can spend the money to try it out." - Clay Lord, TBA's Marketing Director, responding to some questions I posted in comments on one of Chloe Veltman's blogs.

If the No. 1 barrier to attendance is the price of admission, should the Theater Community not take a long, hard look at its ticket prices? And ultimately, lower them?

If the No. 2 barrier to attendance is that people are nervous they might not like a show, then shouldn't we be offering them better shows? At least shows that are more likely to appeal to new audience members?

Instead of trying to answer these tough questions and actually solve the problem, the solution TBA has come up with is to give the product away in the asinine hope that people just don't know that they want to spend $100 on two hours of entertainment written 400 years ago.


Recently, TBA hosted a teleconference (subsequently turned into a podcast and posted here), which was called "Innovating Through a Crisis," and invited a number of Exec Directors of theater companies big and small to discuss how the recession is affecting them and how they're getting through it.

Again, this is an example of TBA missing the point. The problem is not the recession - the recession only compounds the real problem, which is the double digit decline in audiences over the last 20 years.

However, the one thing that was interesting about the podcast was that what appeared to be working for theater companies were mainly two things: talking to their audiences (can't believe this is a novel idea to some companies) and reaching out into their communities either by staging new work from those communities or simple involving those communities in other substantial ways.

Frankly, every theater company should be doing this all the time. But too often companies are only engaged with those who give them grants or big donations. The rise of not for profits has effectively ended the Theater Community's responsibility to audiences and instead made it culpable to the arts foundations which supply the money.

This is a huge problem and it doesn't appear that anyone really wants to acknowledge it. Theater faces big challenges these days from all sorts of entertainment and new technology and dwindling media coverage, leading to one simple solution: evolve or die.

Giving away the product is no evolution, it's just life support.

Again, Mr. Lord, my sincere apologies if this comes across in an ass hole tone (I am sure it does), but just like you, I love Theater. And I get viscerally angry when I see something that I think is hurting not only my ability to participate in and enjoy theater, but also everyone else's.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Note on Gay Marriage and the Law

The California Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, prompted another round of uproar from the LGBT community and progressives in general.

But really, it shouldn't have. I mean what did you expect? That the Court would rewrite the legal definition of marriage? That is far too large a political risk for any judge with higher aspirations who doesn't want to labeled as "legislating from the bench."

What the Supreme Court's decision should have caused is change of tactic in how the LGBT community is going about getting the rights they deserve - and who knows, maybe this has already begun.

For the record, "marriage," of any sort should, not be a legally recognized right, it's a sacrament, a religious term and tradition that for some reason is now wholly licensed by the state. And, in my opinion, this is where the pro gay marriage crowd can get some traction.

As opposed to some semantical debate about the definition of the religious term marriage, the movement should focus on ending the government sanctioning of all marriages, and call them what they should be called under the law - civil unions.

Everyone, gay couples and straight couples, would be forced to get a civil union license issued by the government, and would have their choice about whether or not to follow that up with a wedding in whichever church/synagogue/mosque they choose.

Not to mention, in getting the law changed, I'm betting a judge would be much more willing to enforce an existing law (separation of church and state) as opposed to creating new law (altering the traditional definition of marriage).

Winning the debate is all about framing it correctly, and currently, the Religious Right is winning that battle. If you frame the debate as being about whether the government should regulate religious traditions, as opposed to the religious definition of those traditions, that debate becomes much more winnable. Example:

ME: Do you beliece the government should regulate religious traditions?


ME: Do you believe marriage is a religious institution?


ME: Then why should the government regulate marriage?


Thanks for reading,


Sleepwalkers v. PianoFight in Round 6 of "ShortLived"

SF Weekly's Best Theater Companies in the City, both the Editors' Pick and the Readers' Poll choice, Sleepwalkers and PianoFight respectively, will be battling it out in Round 6 of PianoFight's audience judged playwriting competition "ShortLived" - June 12, 13, 19 and 20.

Check out the promo below:


Radiostar Interviews PF on State of Theater

Radiostar has once again given PianoFight a forum to espouse our bullshit in an hour long interview on the radiotubes. This time, oddly serious, we talk about the current state of theater, the dominance of not-for-profit companies in the industry, the sheer awfulness of "Free Night of Theater" and, of course, co-eds. Enjoy ...