In the argument over supply and demand in the theater, I think we’re missing the point.
I think the real problem is that the work we make just doesn’t appeal to the people who aren’t coming to see it. We’re too disconnected from our potential audiences.
We disdain them. We look down at them. We make theater they’re “supposed” to see, that would be “good for them,” that’s “hard but rewarding work.” We’ve made ourselves into medicine, into punishment, into confession, into homework.
Theater should definitely BE those things at times, don’t get me wrong; those things are vitally important. But theater should also be entertainment, inspiration, clowning, celebration, comfort. It’s big enough to serve multiple purposes.
And if we’re going to make theater for the people, we should at least know what the people want. We should focus less on making work for ourselves, to impress each other, doing more and more crazy/extreme things, because we see theater all the time and we get bored by conventionality; we should make theater for people who are going to see it, oh, two or three times a year: not often enough to get bored. Again, this is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge them… just that we shouldn’t talk down to them.
I’m also NOT saying, mind you, that we should do the same old chestnuts again and again, or put on lavish Broadway spectacles with rock bands and trapeze artists… hell no.
I’m saying that we should be paying attention to the issues and concerns of the day, in our communities, in America, among our audiences, and making new plays that engage with those issues honestly and earnestly.
Sometimes that’s going to be provocative and challenging, sometimes it’s going to be humorous and comforting — but it’s going to be real, vital, and relevant, and people are going to want it. If we do that, we won’t have a demand problem any more.
In fact, we don’t have one now, as far as I’m concerned; we have a product problem, and it’s one we can address.