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December 15, 2008


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David Moore

Some of us in Chicago have been talking for a while about this trend -- there seems to have been this huge growth in local theater companies over the past few years (mostly among the small, storefront type), and there's a constant influx of theater artists to this town -- yet audience numbers have been declining precipitously, even for "popular," well-reviewed shows.

In fact, I think I remember noting this here, a couple of years ago: there's this "fox and rabbits" thing that goes on. When there are lots of rabbits in the woods, the fox population grows, until they decimate the rabbit population, causing a freefall in the fox population, which means the rabbits can procreate like... er, rabbits... and so on and so on, and they told two friends...

Add to that (and add another cliche): arts groups tend to be the economic canaries in the coal mine. We should be an economic "leading indicator" -- when pennies start to get pinched, we're the first things to lose out.

Sadly, my theater -- Stage Left, here in Chicago -- is fighting pretty hard not to fall prey to this process of natural selection. We're facing an urgent crisis in operational cash, and even if we don't have to close our doors the first week of January, we may not be able to mount our next show in the season (which, just by chance, turns out to be one of my plays... sigh).

We're not giving up. In fact, we're trying to get through this through this extremely tight patch by exploring every possible angle -- cut here, ask there, etc. We're trying not to rely on our history (i.e., just because we've been around for 27 years doesn't mean that we're too important to lose), and we're trying to continue all of our programs and ensemble work and new-play development (something for which we've become known). But it's tough.

Tom Loughlin


FWIW, the following is from my most recent post on the NEA Brochure:

"People will probably scratch their heads and ask why (supply outstrips demand). My quick and unscientific answer to the question is simple: the concurrent growth in theatre education and theatre departments have put a glut out on the market, and these people more than likely continue to open theatres because that’s what they like to do and want to do, not necessarily because there’s a market for the product. Even though the percentage of the theatres that manage to stay open is small compared to the number that opened and didn’t last, it’s still enough to produce the growth seen. Again, a totally unscientific hunch with no data other than personal intuition and experience."

Helen Pafumi

I am late to the table on this one, but here goes.

I think it has everything to do with urban sprawl. As the educated, cultural theatre goers move to the burbs to get a little space, the demographic of urban centers changes as do the outerlying areas. These same folks commute all week long into the city and the last thing they want to do after a long work week is do one more commute. NYC doubles its population every week day from 9-5. I wonder how many of those folks stay after work to see a show?

The future of American theatre may very well be in bringing it to our neighborhoods instead of them coming to us. Hell, its why I started my theatre company in Reston, VA. The audience is here so I went to them.

Lastly, ticket prices. This subject has been of much debate, but when it comes down to it it is simple. They can be only slightly higher than the cost of a movie.
Most folks simply cannot afford more than that on an ongoing basis. That's that.

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