I was raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. No, my mom is not a stripper. Yes, there are schools there.
I practically grew up in casinos, and so I know the attractions of Las Vegas Boulevard (or the Strip) like the back of my hand. They’re all big, flashy shows. Broadway stuff with loud advertisements for tourists, tucked in theatres between slots and poker tables. But what these tourists don’t get to see or hear about is the wonderful theatre that happens off the Strip, and I think that’s a good thing.
In a recent Vegas Seven Magazine article, Steve Bornfeld discusses the climate of the Las Vegas theatre community, specifically dealing with the reopening of the Cockroach Theatre: “Community theater is for this community, not a gateway to some desert Broadway, Sin City Steppenwolf or neon Old Vic. Think of it as parallel to a life lesson we all absorb: Learn to love yourself, not what you will likely never be.” Thank you, Steve! This sentiment is something I have felt since high school. Why would we want to recreate what other cities have? We were built to stand out. We are an oasis in the desert. We are not New York City or Chicago. We are Las Vegas and we were not meant to be like other places (except for our recreations of the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty and Caesar’s actual Palace!!!) We also do not need our community theatre to turn into some cheap Broadway knock-off.
He also offers up this sound advice: “Tourists, by and large, don’t catch a flight to Vegas to take in Broadway musicals, which are likely to eventually arrive at or near their hometowns.” I would like to further this thought and also say that no tourist I have ever encountered has been interested in seeing an off-Strip black box performance of a play written by a local. Tourists want to relax and numb their minds while they’re in Las Vegas. There is plenty of that on the Strip. It is not our duty to numb minds! It is our duty to better our community. This is community theatre, not tourists-who-get-lost-and-find-themselves-in-the-Art-District theatre. Contrary to popular belief, people do live in Las Vegas. My driver’s license proves this. So why are we still catering to the people who do not live here? People who visit Las Vegas come for the Strip. They stay in hotels on the Strip. They eat meals on the Strip. They watch musicals on the Strip. They are not coming for us and that is fine.
We have thousands of residents to come see us. But lots of these residents do not hear about these plays. Theatre communities tend to get super clique-y and that is so unfortunate. I have been in a handful of productions in Las Vegas and have friends in them too and yet I still find it difficult to navigate through what’s playing and where. In my opinion, Las Vegas is certainly lacking in its sense of community. We don’t have cutesy community get-togethers (or at least I wasn’t invited if they happened #sadface). So, it’s definitely more than just advertising that needs to change; it’s a way of thinking throughout Las Vegas. But what better way to bring people together than the theatre?
I have grand plans to finish my BFA in Boston and come back home to Las Vegas and rework the entire system (I wish I was kidding.) I see a theatre community that welcomes and accepts locals, that has legitimate theatres that aren’t attached to sex shops (sorry, Onyx, I think it’s pretty cool but my parents don’t). I see a theatre community that caters to the young and the old, who may not understand the theatre to begin with, not a community that relies on the middle ground: theatre-obsessed patrons who also perform in these shows. We can do better than that. We are smart. We are passionate. And if locals are the only ones to realize this, then that is our audience, not the gamblers from out of town.
Now, about audience members: there are so many young people who are obsessed with theatre (this is proved with the many Thespian Competitions hosted multiple times a year) and they have parents that like theatre and they have friends that like theatre. Why can’t we bring all these theatre lovers together? It has to be possible! It has been done in so many smaller cities such as our own.
We do everything for tourists. Our entire economy is embedded in the hoards of tourists that come to gamble away their savings. That’s great and we need them for that, but I do not believe that we need them to populate our community theatres. I may be young and I may be naïve, but my age also means I have endless hope not only for the Las Vegas theatre community, but also its potential audience.