Cultivating New Audiences

July 22, 2017

How do we, as theatre artists, cultivate new audiences so theatre doesn’t die out in the next 100 years?

Kit Goldstein Grant: First off, by doing what YouthPLAYS helps to do, and what children's theatres do—introducing young audiences and young actors to live theatre. Second, by focusing in on what makes live theatre unique instead of trying to reproduce movies onstage.

Nancy Brewka-Clark: Having young kids perform in early elementary grades is the key. I watched a nephew positively blossom after he won the role of the Lion in his fifth grade production of The Wizard of Oz. He's gone on to be a music major in college as have many of his friends.

Steven Stack: By pushing our writing limits to create new, interesting, challenging, fun pieces that also connect us all. By showing the world the ability of theatre to teach about the human experience. By getting our youth involved at all levels of theatre and providing them with a strong teaching and theatre experience that encourages a lifelong love of theatre. I would imagine that, as time goes on and technological advances push us away from one another, there will be a resurgence of the need for actual human interaction and human truth. And live theatre will play a vital part in that transition.

Nina Mansfield:We need to be open to all kinds of theater and be willing to take risks with new work. We need to create theater that is relevant to the experiences of our audience—not just the audience we have, but the audience that we hope to have. We need to create theater that is highly theatrical—that isn’t just something that can be turned into a film or a TV show.

Barbara Lindsay: Theatre will never die. Storytelling, especially as a community experience, is just too intrinsic a desire for humankind for theater ever to disappear. I believe this quite fervently. Just imagine music dying out. Couldn’t happen. Won’t happen.

Adam Goldberg: If theatre didn’t die in the last 50 years, it’s not going to die in the next 100, or 1000. Theatre, like soccer, is not important to many adult Americans, but as long as it’s alive in our public schools it is not going anywhere.

Tom Smith: I think there are many ways to keep audiences connected to the theatre. First, we have to find the confidence to take a risk and stop reviving work because we feel like it's important when really it's only important because we keep reviving it. We've got to nurture new playwrights and quit having them compete for one slot in a five-slot season surrounded by Shakespeare, Shaw and Rodgers and Hammerstein. We've got to quit producing plays that are set in and tell stories of New Yorkers. Theatre should connect to its own community, in addition to others. Too often theatres produce plays that are set in New York and don't really connect as personally to audiences in Middle America. We've got to allow a few more creature comforts to make the experience more welcoming: eating and drinking during the show, setting aside special sections for those who insist on using their phones during the show, etc. It seems like sacrilege but theatre history proves that there were rowdy theatre audiences who still were affected by what they saw. Finally, we've got to quit writing for "the market" and start writing for "the potential market."

Brian Armstrong: Thank you for this question. I have given this a great deal of thought, and I think the first and most difficult thing theatres will have to do is fundamentally rethink their target demographic. The lifeblood of many theatres across the nation have been the 'nostalgia' crowd, who go to the theatre because they remember the good old days, and they buy season tickets and tolerate the occasional artsy piece for the comfortable old favorites, schmaltzy musicals and down-home stories. It won't take 100 years for that crowd to dissipate. Children of the mid-50's and beyond will not have fond memories of the theatre, because they grew up with television, so nostalgia will be all gone. Theatres will not be able to get a large enough slice of the 'mainstream' crowd anymore to compete with movie theaters and home entertainment. What theatre can do is get very loyal niche crowd who can take some ownership in it. In an age where everyone is connected to wi-fi and disconnected from each other, a live show with real, visceral emotion will be a delicacy that people will flock to, but they will flock from the art galleries, college campuses, museums and arthouse film clubs.

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