Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A Poor Player Takes a Hard Look At Perennial Numbers

Tom Loughlin, who blogs at A Poor Player, throws out a stark post after reviewing the latest Broadway League and NEA numbers.  (83% of Broadway tickets to plays were purchased by Caucasians.)

After years of reading these statistics he comes to the following conclusion:  "Theatre is primarily for white people, as both audience members and practitioners."

It is a more thoughtful post than that declaration might make it sound, (if you know Tom's blog you'll know what I mean,) and remember that his thoughts come after looking at the same data in report after report.

For instance, he points out that Buffalo is 38% African American, but out of the 20 theater companies listed in the area, only 2 are African American companies, and one barely produces.

Theater, Loughlin suggests, as practiced in the mainstream today, might not really appeal to other racial demographics in significant numbers. Heck, it barely appeals to Caucasians in significant numbers.

This is not to say that other races or ethnic groups do not have theatre or do not enjoy it. But the particular form of the scripted written work as interpreted by actors in a linear story-telling fashion seems to be one that has interested western Caucasians for a long time, and apparently continues to do so for a certain demographic slice of white people as a whole. 
Now am I not arguing that non-whites do not enjoy theatre and participate in it. Of course they do. But statistically speaking, on the whole, non-whites simply do not appear interested in the art form as defined above. No other race or ethnic group charts in double digit percentages either as audience members or practitioners of “legit” theatre. The question that really needs to be asked to probe these numbers more carefully is whether or not these low numbers are the result of institutional discrimination, or simply general disinterest in the art form. I suspect many people will want to believe the former, but the numbers seem to indicate that perhaps the latter is closer to reality. One aspect of this question that needs serious consideration is the economic inequality question, but even that may reveal that whites are more willing to sacrifice economic hardship to see and do theatre.


John said...

The stats don't show what I think is the more significant issue. Theatre doesn't necessarily draw a predominantly white audience so much as a predominantly affluent one. Ticket prices largely limit theatre audiences to a certain income bracket, and unfortunately that income bracket is largely Caucasian. How many lower-middle-class New Yorkers, regardless of race, can go to Broadway shows a half-dozen times a year?

Thomas Garvey said...

You know, there may be something to this - in terms of culture, not "race." For instance right now there's an interesting effort afoot in China to promote what they call "spoken theatre" - i.e., Western-style, dialogue-driven theatre, as opposed to various forms of opera, dance and mime - which is a rare thing in Asia. So rare that it's often greeted with skepticism.