If you were alive last month, you know the Pasadena Playhouse announced it’s closing last month.
So much for being the State Theater of California. There is nothing in a name, after all, Jules.
Same day news: according to the Arts For LA website, The City of Los Angeles Budget and Finance Committee put forward a motion to eliminate the Department of Cultural Affairs’ dedicated source of revenue.
Have you ever noticed how many programs have the DCA logo? I would venture to say at least 75% of theaters and almost every other cultural institution in LA. There is a Community Arts Division, Marketing and Development Division, Public Art Division, Cultural Grant Program & Youth Arts and Education Program.
Sounds incredibly dispensable, doesn’t it?
Why are theater audiences diminishing to the point of failure? Why is a small theater hard-pressed to have an audience beyond their family and friends? Assuming, of course, that their family lives near here and their friends aren’t doing their own shows that run at the same time.
There are a LOT of reasons and the problem cannot be distilled into any ONE solution.
I do, however, have two thoughts. Nothing is all-encompassing. Here is where I feel we CAN fight for some actual remedies to the complete disregard of theater – and art in general – by the general public.
The first step is to accept the responsibility. Stop blaming video games, the internet, those kids with their loud music.
It is OUR responsibility.
Relevance: Why haven’t I seen any romantic comedies in at least five years? Simple: the stories have nothing to do with me. They may be well-written, acted and produced, but the story holds no interest for me. Why don’t I read magazine articles about World of Warcraft? Even simpler: I don’t play the game.
Now, I’m not a scientist and I don’t live in the UK, but I do watch and listen to science podcasts, TV programs, read the bbc news online.
Because it interests me. It talks to me in a compelling way about events and discoveries that may not have a direct effect on me or my life, but do change my world.
Just last night I watched James Burke’s “Connections” series, for about the umpteenth time–the first episode connects a power outage in NYC to the invention of the plow which lead to the atomic bomb. It made an incredibly foreign tool in my life inherently relevant to the modern world.
Very little theater is relevant anymore. (If your first reaction to this is “Wait! I write/do theater that is incredibly relevant, and still the audiences are nill,” then skip to Guerrilla Outreach.)
I repeat, very little theater is relevant anymore. Even if the story holds promise of relevance, poor storytelling waters down its relevance so that audiences no longer expect theater to be relevant. So they default to whether or not it’s entertaining, another important quality in a show that unfortunately is also lacking in much L.A. theater.
This all assumes, however, that you actually have an audience inside the theater.
Facebook doesn’t cut it, people. I can’t tell you how many times I RSVP to an event on Facebook and never think about it again. I certainly rarely attend if my only notice was on Facebook.
Guerrilla Outreach: Do postcards work? Does press work? Do print ads work? Do website banners work? Does Facebook work? Does Twitter work?
The answer: all of the above. Yet all of the above is still not enough.
A story that I promise is relevant: Three years ago I worked for a not for profit Safety organization — my job was to find any place in Los Angeles with students, who would accept a FREE program into their school, church group, after school, drama club, wherever. Students would write a DUI Prevention script and we’d perform it.
It was free. I would do all the work. All I had to do was get the school to say “Yes,” and give me dates.
I called. I was told to call back between 12:21 & 12:23pm, when the teacher was on their break. (I’m not exaggerating.) I called back. Nada.
They asked me to fax information. I spent 5-10 minutes faxing, then calling to make sure they got my fax (another 20-30 minutes).
They asked me to email information. I did. Then the follow-up calls began.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
This was just to get them to LOOK at the program.
The only times I actually got a “Yes” with dates for rehearsal, performance, etc.?
When I went to the school and waited until the teacher/administrator was right in front of me.
It takes time. It takes a lot of work. It takes diligence. It takes understanding of a school’s culture, schedule, demographic.
You can’t get that online. Okay, most schools do have their schedule and demographic online, but you still can’t get the “yes.” You can’t get the face time.
Do you say hello to the people walking by your theater every day? Do you invite them inside? While asking the neighborhood restaurants to buy program ads, do you invite them to your previews?
Do you know what they watch? What stories they like? Do you know who your target audience is? How to reach them?
I’m not saying to change your programming entirely, just change your PR. Market differently to different people. It’s the difference between marketing “A masterpiece of the English language” and “Don’t you hate it when no one listens to you and your stepfather’s out to get you?” Extreme differences in Hamlet, but you get the idea.
There is an incredible amount of competition for leisure time. Step away from your computer and fight for attention. Otherwise, stop complaining.
Cindy Marie Jenkins is a theater director and writer who realizes the irony of her last statement.
About the Author: CINDY MARIE JENKINS is a Storyteller & Outreach Nerd based in Los Angeles. Currently Communications Director for 24th STreet Theatre, She is Host & Executive Producer of The Lemon Lounge, a new talk show to connect audiences with the arts. Cindy was one of the arts advocates who created the #LAthtr hashtag in 2010 to unify the Los Angeles theatre scene.