I made a joke to my friend the other day. We were walking past those Planned Parenthood protestors, unapologetically exercising their right to shove pictures of a chopped up baby in my face, and my friend and I were curious what we thought the best method for change. I said, half jokingly, that the best method was simply to wait until they (minimum age of this group around 65) were all gone. That’s the majority of change, is waiting out until the people with power can no longer hold it, or anything, anymore. Of course I think if you really want to change something, sticking to old dogs can’t learn new tricks is a terrible mantra.
But apparently that was one of the solutions of Round House Artistic Director Ryan Rilette at the recent controversial Theatre Summit, as reported by attendee Elissa Goetschius:
During the course of the evening Ryan suggested that it will take at least ten more years for significant change to happen in terms of parity for women and artists of color. Then he went so far as to say the change will come when the Baby Boomer artistic directors retire and hand their posts to younger artistic leaders.
It’s a passive, ineffective, slow, and above all lazy way of changing how theaters operate. It is vital that we can trust our artistic leaders to be progressive forces and lead instead of follow twenty years behind. So why are these leaders holding back on making decisions that would support female and black theatre artists? As far as their answers are concerned, its because they are being safe. Lets not producer female writers because female writers aren’t getting produced in London or New York. But as Elissa explains, it’s counterintuitive. We think taking these “safe” options will be good for theatre community, and yet these decisions are driving the American audience away from the theatre.
And it’s just not American audiences. In Nicola Merrifield’s recent article Grandage: West End will close without younger audiences she explains the necessity of encouraging young theatre-goers.
It stands to reason that if we don’t do it (lower ticket prices), the West End will close when this generation becomes senior citizens. Because who will replace the people who are now old? They will be dead shortly. If there’s nobody to replace the dead people then we won’t have a West End.
It’s the exact same method of change, except it’s happening to us. Like before, it’ll be slow, but it’ll happen if we remain passive. It baffles me that so many in the theatre world, in a medium that depends on risk and vulnerability and making choices, are so resilient against change. We must be riskier in our decision making, even if they are big decisions. (I have to add that I don’t believe decisions like producing plays written by women or minorities is a risky decision, however that’s how it’s viewed right now.)
One last thought. As Elissa Goetschius concludes in her Summit response, one great hope she has is in the power of the audience. I know she’s true. It often seems like big companies control what the consumers consume, however it’s really the other way around. I cognitively know that, but my question is what is the best medium for that conversation to happen. I would imagine that ticket sales would be the clearest tell of what audiences want, but despite the continuous decline of audiences, theaters are still making the same safe decisions. The rise of blogging and Twitter have definitely had a positive effect in letting the theaters know directly what we think, but how can we as audiences have a clearer voice?