Next Theatre will be closing down immediately. They have been serving the Evanston and larger Chicago community for over thirty years. Tracy Letts’s first play, “Killer Joe,” premiered there and they continued to produce adventurous, risky new work throughout their company’s lifetime. Apparently, Next’s demise wasn’t a surprise due to years of financial difficulty that wound up putting them over $80,000 in the red. The lack of audience participation is at the root of the company’s death.
Chris Jones, of The Chicago Tribune, published the official report on Next “closing their doors” here. He quoted the board chairman Rob Andalman saying, “‘To see this theater fail is hard … To see it fail for lack of audience support is even harder.’” The subscription base was cut in half over the past summer. The community lost interest.
Next is an equity-affiliated company that launched several productions onto broadway and off-broadway stages. And for whatever reason- financial, commercial, cultural- the audience disappeared. Granted, thirty years is a long lifetime for any theatre company to stay relevant. As someone who has very little experience in the real world, I find myself asking the naive question– why is that? Do we accept the fact that audiences change and that our own personal mission statements will eventually become irrelevant to the community we serve? Should we be in constant conversation about how to best serve our community at the risk of sacrificing our own artistic goals? What’s more important?
I’m forced to say that our mission statements are worthless if no one is willing to watch them be fulfilled.