Friday, January 22, 2010

Art vs. Money

The theatre department at my school requires us to read the theatre articles in the Sunday New York Times every week. I figured those would probably be good places to get inspiration for new blog posts. The article that caught my eye last Sunday deals with how theater companies around the world are becoming more and more afraid of taking risks.

It has often been said that Hollywood is corrupt. Well, Broadway may not be all that innocent either. The article focuses on the mistrust between playwrights and theaters. Playwrights are up in arms about the fact that more and more theater companies are gravitating towards more well-known playwrights and more popular themes when it comes to choosing what play their theater will produce. I know that Broadway is full of revivals and musicals, but the article featured a staggering statistic that literally made me gasp: between 1920 and 1940 there was an average of 130 new plays on the Great White Way a year, there was an average of 29 new plays a year between 1960 and 1980, and only a mere 14 a year between 1980 and 2000.

It is no secret that producing a play is a huge investment. That is why theaters tend to shy away from plays with large casts or extravagant sets. But really? 14 plays? I understand that this is a business and these theaters need to make money, but another article, I think, may hold the answer. It talks about the Foundry Theater, a company that is known for their experimental theatre. Recently they produced a "performance piece" in a restaurant where the people buying the tickets became the actual actors. They had headphones on through which the dialogue was fed to them. Another experiment taken on by the Foundry was when they produced a "play" in an actual flea market. In February they will be producing a "play" where a single actor sits in a chair the entire time and plays all the roles. With each new venture, the Foundry, and its producer Melanie Joseph, gets so much attention from the press that they can't help but sell tickets. And as Ms. Joseph constantly repeats throughout the article: Nobody has walked out during one of the performances.

Maybe this is the answer. How much can these plays possibly cost to produce? Some of my most memorable theater-going experiences have been the ones in those small makeshift theaters, with minimal set pieces. When stripped down to that level, it is simply actors telling a story, taking you on a journey created by them, the director, and the playwright. There is no spectacle. Simply theatre. Maybe something along those lines won't sell as much as if a theater were to produce The Phantom of the Opera, but at least it will be something new, and exciting, and for once, risky. Art will go nowhere if it sticks to what is safe.


  1. I agree, theatre with simplicity usually has more of an impact on me and is more enjoyable. Thought, Character, Plot and Language should be the key elements. Spectacle and Music should just be the icing on the cake.
    Also, I think producing something like "The Phantom of the Opera" would be a lot more expensive than some of the performances Foundry Theater produces because of it's need for Spectalce. I enjoyed reading this-great topic.

  2. Yeah, I am definitely not opposed to huge sets and expensive costumes or even music in theatre. I love musicals, lol. But I just feel that it is a great disservice to the public if theaters keep producing the same thing over and over again. I get so excited every time I hear of something like the stuff that the Foundry produces. I wish more theaters had the balls to take those risks.