A long time ago, I promised a post about why people don't go to the theater, based on conversations I had had with a good friend who, you know, doesn't really go to the theater. Most of my friends do regularly go to the theater, and I feel therefore our (and I do mean our) own conclusions on the issue sometimes can feel both self-serving and plucked out of thin air.
First let me explain why my friend (whom I'll call Zack) is a fairly ideal theater consumer. He's young (under thirty) well educated, literate, culturally savvy, progressive, has at least a little bit of disposal income, smart, perceptive, politically aware, went to theater with his family growing up etc. Zack is exactly the type of person you'd think would be attracted to seeing theater. He isn't.
Why? Zack told me first that theater doesn't really penetrate his consciousness. Now, Zack lives in Boston, not New York, but Boston has a fairly vibrant theater scene. He said he doesn't really hear about plays that appeal to him. Movies and television invade his space constantly through the Hollywood Hype Machine (print and TV ads, for example, the rumor mill &c.) and such mechanisms don't exist for theater. It's not just about Masscult creating desire (as advertising often does) it's just on some level the information that a show he might be interested in never reaches him in the first place.
Second, he said that there is something about live theater that he just finds distasteful. He's not sure what it is, but Zack said it had something to do with the live-ness of the performer. Now, for those of us who are theater junkies, who love theater and everything about it, the liveness of the event is what is precious about it. I've written here many times crying out against the gradual mediatization of the theatrical experience. But to Zack, this is precisely the thing that makes theater difficult. There's something about watching the living 3-dimensional person, instead of a flickering 2-dimensional image that is uncomfortable and difficult. Especially in watching them pretend to be someone else with mixed results.
Is this his alienation? That's what he suggested. I'm inclined to agree. We live in an increasingly isolated and alienated world, and part of theater's power is that it can disrupt that process of isolation on some level. But if that's what you're used to... would you necessarily think live-ness is something worth having?
Then I asked him... well, what about ticket price
And he said something that was (a) really helpful, (b) disagreed with the assumption I had and (c) backs up The Playgoer's points on this issue. He said, "Well, high ticket price would explain why I don't go the theater more often, but I'm willing to plunk down $40-60 for the occasional Beck concert. So why not plunk it down for the occasional play? If plays were cheaper, I'd still have the other problem of not really knowing they were happenning."
Anyway... some interesting thoughts to ponder. Which I leave you to ponder and pontificate on in the comments.