Thursday, June 07, 2007

Slate talks Theatre

Just thought I would point to the fact that Salon is running articles about Broadway, and Slate has a new dialogue between Peter Filichias and June Thomas about the Broadway Season.

One can only hope that these two online publications might actually start to cover theatre on a regular basis. But perhaps this key paragraph from June Thomas's first entry can shed some light on why theatre is kept out of the cultural coverage:

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?

***UPDATE: In the Fray (Comments Section) of the Slate piece, one of the authors has thrown out a question to the readers about Slate's coverage. Calling all interested parties to get in on the conversation.


Scott Walters said...

Oh, man, Art -- it sure is a problem! This is where theatre was in England just prior to the "Look Back In Anger" renaissance. In many ways (and I'm talking more form than content) theatre hasn't changed in decades, maybe centuries, and it may be our most conservative art form. This isn't about marketing, I don't think, but about trying to orient oneself to a new aesthetic. As a theatre teacher, I think a big part of the fault for this lies in the way we educate theatre students, which shapes them into doing theatre the way it's always been done.

Thomas Garvey said...

I, personally, don't find it very threatening that the wonks at "Slate" don't regularly attend the theatre - in fact, I'd be a little more worried about the state of the art if they did! I doubt, for instance, that they hang out at the opera, either - an art form which is humming along quite nicely. Ditto dance, and classical music - in fact, the only one of the fine arts which seems to be in serious disarray is visual art itself, which has become (surprise) hopelessly entangled with pop culture. Really, the parochialism of the Ivy League Facebook crowd is sometimes kind of amazing.

June Thomas does (half-) make one serious point, however - the expense of theatre has become exorbitant. Before you jump all over me, Art, this does NOT mean that it's valid to make critical points such as "This play wasn't really worth $50" - because, as I've pointed out before, the costs of theatre are primarily determined by rents and other economic factors, NOT the costs of the artists themselves. Still, donors, patrons, and the government should begin to address these concerns. Any "live" artistic activity in the post-industrial age, in which costs are largely lowered by mass distribution and technology, is going to steadily rise in price well ahead of the general rate of inflation. This makes the form less and less viable as an entertainment option for ordinary folks. The Metropolitan Opera, of all institutions, is perhaps finding ways around this impasse - donors are now providing a number of low-price tickets to most performances, and the Met is beaming live productions into movie theatres across the country. The public has responded with enthusiasm - in fact, on a per-theatre basis, the Met's productions have often edged into the top 10 movies of their respective weekends. And what's more hoity-toity and "conservative" an art form than opera?

Art said...

Hi Thomas,

Good Points.

But really, isn't the Met beaming into theatres kind of the same as Hallmark Hall of Fame or Showtime running plays onto TV?

I have said recentley that aside from contractual issues which would need to get worked out with the Unions. I do not see why in the world all of the filmed Broadway performances that are in the Archives aren't being released on an on demand or pay per view basis.

And I am not so sure as you are that Opera, (Dead Man Walking, etc.,) hasn't absorbed popular culture. But I'll defer to your better literacy on the subject.

Thomas Garvey said...

Hi Art -

You make an interesting point about the Met "moviecasts" and TV. Somehow the Met versions feel more "live" than TV (and are, of course, visually much more imposing).

I'm not sure the Met experiment is directly transferable to live theatre, btw - I'm just pointing out that when what seems like intimidatingly "high" culture is available at a low price, a lot of people seem to pop out of the woodwork to go see it.

Re: "Dead Men Walking" - you have a point about opera "absorbing" high culture - it always has. All the high arts have. The problem comes when you consciously try to dismantle the differences between high and pop culture. They're much better off as separate traditions, enlivening and invigorating each other.