Why Theatre is Dying

by Michelle Vu

     Theatre has been around since the dawn of civilization. Acting out stories live has been a form of entertainment and a way of immortalizing tales long after the author has passed on, making theatre a truly timeless art form. Long ago, the plays of William Shakespeare would grace the stage, captivating queens and beggars alike. However, theatre today is dying. Seeing a play is not the first pastime most young people would consider for a Friday night. Why? The industry has lost its appeal to the general masses due to its inability to adapt. In order for theatre to live on, it must return to its roots. It should welcome once again everyone, not just the elite; for the stories told on stage should be as diverse as the audience. Recently, theatre has transformed into a pretentious affair. To remain timeless, it can no longer alienate the youth.

     The core problem with the theatre industry lies in funding. Too often, theatre, and the arts in general, are severely underfunded. Art is risky, experimental, and controversial-- however, it does not exist in a vacuum. A play or musical that cannot make money will not exist for long. The theatre industry contains some of the most passionate and hardworking individuals, but the cost of a fully realized vision means cash, and a lot of it. Labors of love are not always enough. From equipment to instrumentalists to costumes to sets and rent, theatre costs run high and result in outrageous ticket prices to compensate. This alone drives away many because few would pay fifty to two hundred dollars to see a professional show, and although community theatre is much cheaper, it does not have the same advertising reach due to tight funds. It is hard to convince someone to pay for something they might not even like. The chain reaction continues on to the investors and producers.

     Just as people will not pay for a risk, investors are wary of investing in a risk. It is difficult for newer content to break through to mainstream, which in the U.S. is known as Broadway. Year after year, revivals spring up and make decent money. Classics are great and revivals are wonderful for bringing attention to stories that were not appreciated in their original runs, but for theatre to progress alongside society, new content must be produced. As a creative business, theatre must learn to nurture originality and to do that, investors need to trust the artists.

     Theatre does not have to die. Many have found a home in theatre, or have seen a show that has changed them. It is truly a wondrous thing in retrospect. A whole team of a hundred or more people rehearsing for months and coming out every night to give someone a good show. This part of our culture should be preserved and be allowed to flourish.  If up and coming playwrights are allowed a broad audience and young people are invited to act in these fresh productions; a brand new audience will emerge.  Finally, as a society, we need to fund the arts as it is what defines our humanity.