Mark Shenton: “I always apply the test I also use on theatre tickets to assess how useful they are: would I pay ready money to have one? And the answer is hardly ever. Yet theatre programmes have become a habit for many. They are part of the theatregoing ‘experience’ and a happy aide-memoire of the show. But, I often find the information I need just as easily online. A front of house notice will typically list the cast at a particular performance – especially important with long-running shows where substitutions often appear. So I simply take a photograph of it.”
You can understand the confusion that could arise in an audience member who, aware that theatre performances are now broadcast live to cinemas via NT Live and the like, thinks they are entitled to act as a private broadcast channel to their friends at home. Theatre invites you to be uniquely ‘in the moment’ but, for many, it’s now important also to capture it so that you own it forever.
The genre has moved far beyond Disney’s screen-to-stage extravaganzas, Hairspray, and The Producers: in London alone, there are currently live-theatre versions of Network, Jubilee, Fanny and Alexander, and The Exorcist. Says director Chris Goode, “I think what has happened over the last 10 years or so is that we’ve stopped having the idea that theater is essentially a literary form.”
In many ways, fundraising for theatre faces the same patterns and pressures as other nonprofits. But in recent years, numbers have emerged indicating that theatre may be in considerably better shape than other kinds of organizations chasing the same dollars. Zannie Giraud Voss, director of the National Center for Arts Research(NCAR) at Southern Methodist University, gives a sanguine report.
For example, Marianna Calbari in Greece: A plethora of crises – economic, social and political – has fuelled the demand for theatre in Greece. In the midst of unparalleled austerity, the country still outstrips every other European nation in the number of theatres it has per capita. For Marianna Calbari, the playwright, director and actor who shot to fame at the height of the country’s crisis, the stage has been a refuge. “All theatre,” she says, “has the power of consolation.”
Lyn Gardner: “When reviewing space gets tight it is not the shiny, starry mainstream shows in the West End or at the National or the Royal Shakespeare Company that get cut, but the new, the unknown and the innovative.” Especially if those shows are at regional theatres: for a producer, “schlepping across the country and a night in a hotel may be worth it, if reviews by those you trust have alerted you to a company with a great show you haven’t previously heard of.”
Another excerpt from the Dan Kois-Isaac Butler oral history The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of ‘Angels in America’: here, “actors, administrators, and journalists tell the story of one such theater that went to court to fight a local government that wanted to shut the play down – and won.” (Until, that is, the following year.
With “Springsteen on Broadway” — and the approximately $2.4 million it brings in every week — on hiatus, overall sales dipped by $2.8 million to $22 million for 24 shows. Attendance slipped by about 20,000 to 191,186, or 83% of the street’s overall capacity. Those numbers were better than the same week last year (when there were 23 shows playing), with attendance up about 15,000 compared to 2017.
“Only recently has a line been added to the show asking audience members to ‘keep a respectful distance’ from the performers. Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a culture where this nannyish reminder was unnecessary? It would. We don’t.” Alexis Soloski lays out the case.
“The Bossy collective are behind a 15,000-member Facebook group set up in 2016 as a supportive space for women in the creative industries. Now, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and continuing allegations of sexual misconduct in the creative and other industries, the group, has founded a campaign to buy the Theatre Royal Haymarket.”
One actor set up a forum to discuss West End job sharing ideas, and it had hundreds of members within days. Actor Caroline Sheen is for it. ‘”Eight shows a week for a year – it’s a lot for any parent,’ says Sheen, who has a five-year-old daughter. She’s a fan of having the alternate scheme extended. ‘To explore these avenues further means people who are parents have more options open to them. … I’ve only been able to take short contracts, because of the parental guilt of leaving her for so long. A job share would make life easier for parents.'”
As Ensler was helping build a sanctuary for rape survivors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she discovered that she had stage 3/4 uterine cancer. After she turned that experience into a memoir, she, and director Diane Paulus, made it into a one-woman play. “Ensler says there’s something very ‘meta’ about re-enacting her own physical pain and spiritual journey for 300 people, eight performances a week.”
Audible, the massive audiobook company that’s owned by Amazon, just announced a “first round” of commissions for playwrights including Lauren Gunderson and Leah Winkler. But the plays won’t just be recorded and downloadable: “Audible intends to stage live productions of these plays. Katz likes the idea of limited runs that will allow producers to recruit big-name actors.”
Jordan Roth, whose Jujamcyn Theatres owns five of Broadway’s 41 theatres, and “who has had a longtime interest in performing and has dabbled in video production previously, conceived of this new series months ago, with the idea of developing ‘a kids’ show for adults,’ modeled on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse.'” And there’s a lot of swearing – not to mention jokes aimed squarely at the president.
Via Facebook, the students received pictures of themselves with swastikas plastered on their faces. One parent had what was thought to be her home address (it wasn’t) posted online with a comment seeming to encourage harassment: “Do your thing social media.” Another parent received a profane email, assailing her for embracing “anti-white racism,” adding: “I feel sorry for your brainwashed child.”
Many audience members seem increasingly intolerant of any distraction in their theatregoing experience, an attitude likely brought on in part by the steep rise in ticket prices. Will the use of smart phones, even with a non-glare app, inspire some nasty exchanges? Will open captioning continue to be seen as some kind of niche practice that intrudes on the serenity of the “mainstream”? Will autistic audience members always be accommodated through a policy of separate but equal?
In another excerpt from Isaac Butler’s and Dan Kois’s The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of ‘Angels in America’, Tony Kushner and various directors and actors who have worked on the show over the decades talk about the play’s most repugnant, most compelling character – in real life as in the script.
It’s a theatrical phenomenon, attracting celebrities and pop culture cameos. Performers say it is one of the most exciting productions they could list on a resume. But eight former Sleep No More performers and staffers told BuzzFeed News they were groped by audience members during the show. In all, BuzzFeed News confirmed 17 incidents of groping or sexual misconduct by patrons during the show — including of two former performers who were groped multiple times.
Well, we’ve seen stranger ideas. The Bush Theatre in London will present Fertility Fest 2018 this May. “The line-up will include talks, visual arts, literature, theatre and film with over 150 artists, scientists and experts exploring fertility in the 21st century.” Among the three plays on the programme will be Joanne Ryan’s Eggsistential.
“The theater was so small, it was named the Little Theater. That was 106 years ago, and since then it has been reincarnated many times – renamed, repurposed, rehabilitated. Now known as the Helen Hayes Theater, … the 589-seat playhouse has a new mission: … to present work by living American playwrights, a form of counterprogramming at a time when Broadway is dominated by musicals, revivals and British imports.”
Artists Repertory Theatre had plans to sell half of its building, including one of its theatres, to a development group that was going to turn the pricey Portland real estate into a 20-story housing and retail building. That may still happen, but the $7 million – one of the largest arts gifts in Oregon’s history – allows the theatre company to pay off its mortgage and be, the artistic director said, “in control of our own destiny.”
How did a few interviews about the play turn into a book? The authors: “We kept getting so much amazing stuff. Every single person we talked to would tell us the kind of story you tell about the defining artistic and intellectual moment of your life. No one was like, ‘Oh yeah, it was great. I don’t remember much about it.'” Then there was the Robert Altman movie idea.
“The point is that practice makes perfect – in theatre as in emergency situations. We rehearse for both, and ‘lockdown’ drills preparing children for the threat of active shooters are on the rise in American schools. Breach [Theatre’s] new show, The Drill, questions the effectiveness of such procedures. It asks whether playing out attacks increases rather than diminishes their potency.”
“For the 34 years Medieval Times has been in business, [its] monarch has been a man. But the show, which draws an estimated 2.5 million customers each year, is replacing all of its kings with queens. And its peculiar brand of dinner theater – a sort of G-rated Game of Thrones – is taking on an unlikely resonance amid the national jousting over gender equality provoked by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.”
As with just about any cool city these days, real estate costs in the City of Roses have been rising faster than cash-strapped arts organizations can keep up with – especially for the clear-space buildings that theatres need. As several of Portland’s smaller companies lost their spaces at around the same time, they got creative.