In his speech that often loops on local access cable channels, Ben Cameron, president of Theater Communications Group, cites three arguments in favor of increased theater attendance. (I'm probably going to garble them, but here goes, because the preceding post on Interplayers has me fired up, here on the virtual eve of The Inlander's Fall Arts Preview, which we're readying for Sept. 15.)
1. The economic multiplier effect. Local politicos and businesspeople should care about theaters and other local arts organizations, not simply because they add to vague notions of a city's "quality of life," or even because of all the Richard Florida creative class stuff about attracting the youngest, best and brightest.
But studies consistently show every dollar spent on a theater ticket brings six to eight dollars spent in the downtown core -- dinner, drinks, you name it.
2. Kids involved in the arts do better on their SATs, are more tolerant, do better in most life measures.
But Cameron points out that, while true, arguments 1 and 2 aren't the killer arguments for the maintenance of theater among us.
3. The lobster argument. Cameron has a long analogy about how some lobster fishermen in Maine continue to catch lobsters in small nets instead of huge trawling nets -- because it's more humane and safer and shows more pride in their craft.
The point: Theater will never be the movies. It won't make a gazillion dollars by appealing to mass audiences. Theater should revel in its suggestiveness (appealing to our imaginations, not splattering us with hyper-realistic special effects) and in its very inefficiency. Putting on the same show, over and over, 15 times to an audience of 200 is simply not as efficient as it would be to do it once to 3,000 people and have it over and done with.
But as actors will tell you, it's NOT the same show every night. And besides, theater people take the time to deliver a personal event, every night out. You're in the room, feeling the same emotions that Othello feels when he realizes that he's been fooled, that the woman he loves is dead, that he killed her, that he has betrayed himself.
(I know, I know, how depressing -- who wants to go through all that? Tragic catharsis is for another discussion.)
Of course it's easier to watch a movie -- in your jammies at home, or at the cineplex where the latest vaporize-the-aliens flick is being shown 12 times a day.
Theater takes time, is more expensive than a movie (though student tix aren't much higher) and you have to go there at a particular time (not just when it's convenient to you).
But local actors and directors need to do their best, because theatergoers are carving time out of their schedules because some teacher or parent once showed them that magic feeling when the lights go down and there are living, breathing actors up there onstage. Nike Imoru once gave me the shivers just recounting how excited she was the first time she met a real, live actor.
Despite the way some actors and directors around here probably feel about me because of this blog, I still feel the same way.
Shivers. Done right, theater is magical.
Inefficient, out of step with mass media, but still wonderful.
God bless it. We've got to keep it going strong.