Jun 8, 2007

Johnny Come Slate-ly

Nice to see another of Slate's ultra-sporadic squibs about theater with this pre-Tony correspondence between the estimable Peter Filichia and Slate's own June Thomas, who confesses early on to him:
I did a quick survey of Slate's New York office staff and found that for the most part, theater just isn't a core ingredient of the cultural diet of this hypereducated, au courant group of relatively affluent young people. They read prolifically, see all the new movies, and can identify the hip bands in four notes, but Broadway, or theater in general?--not so much. Accompanying out-of-town visitors seems to be the main reason for theatergoing. Otherwise, it's too expensive, stuffy, and tragically unhip. Surely that's a problem?

(Frankly, Thomas' admission that "I enjoyed the short-lived musical version of High Fidelity" seems to me a much bigger problem.) But Filichia's response to the perennial lament of why-don't-more-young-people-go-to-the-theatre is pretty fierce:
This obsession with youth to which even the theater has now succumbed has not helped. Why does the theater so crave the young people, anyway? Why is their money worth more than older people's money? Why must we cater to people who, for the most part, have less life experience and less-educated standards?

That follows a pretty convincing list of lessons Filichia says he learned at the theater, from "adult-themed shows that made me more of an adult."

I must say that the lament that theater audiences are somehow ever-graying, and hence one day soon will take the whole theatergoing tradition to the grave with them, has been around long enough (in my relatively brief career alone) that it disproves itself. Theatergoing, for better or worse, is a relatively elite activity undertaken primarily by people of a certain age and education, and it's been so for many years. That doesn't mean it doesn't have every reason to change, welcome new voices, new audiences, new blood. But when such new blood does get injected, it's being injected into a pretty healthy, or at least stubbornly persistent, body.


Anonymous said...

I also wonder if the "no young people in the audience" phenomenon is a problem primarily for Broadway and larger regional houses. Most of the shows I attend here in Chicago at the storefront level have a healthy percentage of twenty- and thirtysomethings in the audience, along with older attendees. The same was true of shows I covered in San Francisco. Of course, many of those people could be friends of the artists involved in the production, and hence not people who are overly inclined to see shows regularly. But people who have blown their theatergoing budget for the year on one Broadway or touring extravaganza or a regional theater subscription may not, conversely, be likely to support the younger companies in less-traditional venues, either.

I loved Peter's point about the death of drive-ins and TV westerns before Broadway musicals, too.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that last comment was me.