When it comes to theatre culture, America is like England’s clumsy cousin.
America’s the girl sitting at the table at the family Christmas party, filo cups stuffed into her purse, bits of brie stuck in her eyebrows.
England descends the staircase in her beautiful crushed velvet gown, a modest neckline but still stunning, hair curled to perfection. She is the picture of put-together.
The culture of theatre in England something that is almost hard to fathom. Being in the theatre in England is an act of religion, spirituality. Being a theatre maker in England is even more sacred. The culture there values you. When you meet someone new and tell them you make theatre they are impressed, interested, they want to know more. Going to drama school is a worthy use of your time. The revelation that you attend a school for theatre is met with awe and excitement, jealously even. Pursuing a career in the theatre is noble. No one asks you what restaurant you waitress in. You feel loved by the county and the culture because it loves so much what you do. Theatre isn’t just a luxury in England, it’s a lifestyle.
The culture of English theatre is not without its faults. This article by Lyn Gardner in the Guardian outlines some of the epidemics in the British theatre and they are similar to those in our own: lack of diversity in theatre makers and theatre goers, local funding falling by 50% in recent years. The thriving theatre scenes are found primarily in city centers with more rural areas feeling less of the benefits. But Gardner also points out that the theatre thrives because of supply and demand: people go to the theatre because there is so much theatre to see. And it’s /affordable/. The student schemes for some of the county’s most reputable theatres provide £5 tickets to a majority of their productions (and as a result there are more young people in the audience). Apps like TodayTix provide the cheapest possible seats to big West End shows. If you want to see theatre, you can find a way. And you do want to see theatre, because it’s what’s COOL! Queen Liz herself demands it (probably).
It seems such a waste that we don’t adopt this attitude here. More and more young people and people of diverse backgrounds and orientations are becoming interested in the theatre as the theatre becomes more interested in them. We should divert money and energy to fostering those new relationships. If we want a good return on investment, we actually have to make the investment first. Of course there are overarching systematic changes that would need to be made to make this county’s art scene accessible for the masses (the mass redirection of funds to the arts, for a start). But if the Brits can do it, we can too, right? We’ve got that revolutionary spirit and whatnot. Let’s start having conversations in our communities about how to make theatre cool. Let’s make it the hoppin’ place to be on a Friday (where the cool people who don’t say hoppin’ want to be). Let’s make theatre makers into rockstars and the theatre a rock concert. The Brits have found joy in making, attending, and supporting theatre. Let’s learn from them. Let’s have bars and snacks and music and dancing and joy, lots and lots of joy.