Canada Should Have Just Paid Me Instead
I must comment on this ridiculous Canadian study that discovered the more money and education a Canadian has, the more likely they are to attend a cultural event. A related finding showed that once people have children, they're less likely to go out to these events. Now I'm no sociologist, but I'm going to take a leap here and assume the same results hold true here in the U.S.
(Pictured is Canadian Robert LePage's The Andersen Project.)
Here's how much an evening at the theater will cost my husband and me on a Saturday night:
Two tickets to a show at a major Avenue of the Arts house will cost, well, technically, nothing, since I get my tickets for free, but play along with me and let's figure on $80 for two. Except we've reserved the tickets online, so there's also a $5 processing fee.
There's babysitting at $10/hr., which is really only if I can get this one fairly un-savvy sitter, who's new to the country and not much for bargaining. Otherwise it's $12-$15/hr. Luckily, on this night, she's available for five hours.
Gas, which normally wouldn't even figure into the equation, is now an issue, so for a 40 minute drive to the city from our house and back, we'll burn roughly $7 worth of fuel.
Parking on Saturday nights is around $20, but I know a great lot not too far from the theater that's $13. Don't ask where, because I'm not telling.
Dinner, with salads, entrees, drinks, and a tip, but no dessert, is $74 (if we're out, we're going to a decent restaurant).
We're both thirsty during intermission, so that's another $4 in bottled water.
Grand total: $233, and that's without a post-show stop at the gelato place to discuss the production.
However, this evening has already required so much advance planning and juggling of schedules that I'm exhausted before I leave the house and wonder why I didn't just order up a movie on HBO since I'm already paying for it.
There are cheaper ways to go about this, like skipping dinner (or being a theater critic), but the fact remains that even if you only shell out $80 for that pair of tickets, attending the theater is an elite endeavor. It also doesn't help that so many companies emerged from the real estate building boom saddled with their own new houses and massive operating costs. The bills must be paid, which means ticket prices, already high before, will remain so no matter how much artistic directors want to share their vision with a larger audience.
I'll bet it's part of what brought Theatre de la Jeune Lune to its knees, even though they deny it. All that borrowing against a mortgage ultimately leaves you bankrupt and homeless. It's a nonprofit version of all those McMansions currently up for foreclosure, except you'd think show folk would know a little more about the downside of hubris than the general population.
So how to get more people besides those wealthy, highly-educated professionals inside the theater? Well, once again, part of the answer is arts education in grade school. Why do the college-educated fill theater seats? Because they've been exposed to the arts for free (sort of) at their colleges and universities. They've been invited to experience theater in a comfortable and familiar environment that also happens to occur right where they live and involve people they may know.
Get kids used to seeing shows in childhood, or creating it during their teenage years, and it's not so foreign when they're adults. Also, once kids start asking to see theater, their parents might start getting out again and taking them to professional productions, thus bucking the Canadian stay-at-home trend. (I also recently heard about a theater that offers babysitting during certain productions. Brilliant!) It's an obvious answer, yes, but as I've said before, many times, this fall's election pits a man with multiple arts and education plans against a man with none, and the winner gets to control our public education and the NEA.
Another answer is for municipalities to keep funding and presenting public arts opportunities like New York's Waterfalls, and closer to my home, Philly's free Shakespeare in Clark Park, or its myriad free Fringe Festival events. Once the arts become part of the landscape, you can't help but notice when they've gone missing.
Anyway, greater minds than mine can come up with better answers. I just want to know how much it cost Canada to fund that study, and how many opportunities to fund public performances could have been underwritten instead.