By Jesse Strachman
The unique appeal of theater lies in the fact that every performance is a hand-crafted, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Theater is about creation. It creates something unique and special – a personal, shared emotional connection between the audience and the actors on the stage. I once got some terrific advice from a director about casting, paraphrased: “It’s not about how good the actor is or how great they sing – it’s about how they make you feel.” It is that creation of the shared emotional experience that makes theater special.
Keeping theater new and fresh is a challenge. In a world dominated by market-driven entertainment, innovation becomes more difficult. The more experimental and unique a show is, the harder it becomes to draw in an audience. Small audiences mean less money, which means the theater company can’t survive. Also, if a show is really out-there, then that special connection doesn’t get made, leaving the audience scratching their heads, trying to figure out what exactly they just witnessed.
How can we, producers of small, intimate and edgy theater, retain the novelty and innovation and still retain our audiences? One way is by reaching out to those people who don’t go to see theater – at least, the ones that don’t go see small theater, and explaining to them what they’re missing. Most people like art, as long as they can understand it. At the very least, we should try to get them to start coming to see the less experimental works, and see where their curiosity takes them. Most people who don’t see small theater are afraid that they won’t “get it” – that it will be lost on them, that it will be boring, that they’re not “cultured” enough. But the reality is that the best stage comedies are even funnier than today’s sitcoms, the best stage dramas are far more engrossing than the best things on TV, and so on. Reach out to co-workers, and to “non-theater” friends. Make it a goal to bring at least one of them with you next time you see a show. The best thing we can do is to get people off the couch and into the theaters by telling them – if you like “Friends,” you’ll love this Neil Simon comedy. If you liked the movie “The Full Monty” – hey, did you know they made a musical? Yes, on stage. It’s even better than the movie.
I think that if we were to start getting these people in the door, then there’s room to get them to expand their interests to the more esoteric works. Ask them questions. Find out what works for them. What did they like? What did they dislike? What would they like to see more of?
There are people out there who would come to the theater if they knew there was something for them there. I believe our job is to find them, and bring them in.
Jesse Strachman is the Artistic Director of Blue Spruce Theatre