By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In fact, very much like the Taper’s, the Odyssey’s subscription base has become nearly synonymous with “aging audience.” The difference, though, is that Sossi’s graying patrons are always eager to confront new and often controversial work, like David Gieselmann’s Mr. Kolpert, which recently featured full-frontal, blood-splattered nudity. Blue-haired does not always mean blue-nosed.
Sossi says that for years, he and his Odyssey colleagues tried to figure out ways to coax young people into their theater, offering ticket discounts and student-outreach programs. Finally, he says, they realized it wasn’t a matter of money or even of exposing students to the stage.
“The student category is a false category,” Sossi says. “Let’s face it, kids want to rebel and don’t want to do something their school says they’re supposed to. Among young people, theater is considered a dry thing — it’s not even in the atmosphere.”
Sossi points to some Odyssey strategies ($12 “anytime” tickets available to anyone 25 and under, attempts to create youth “councils” that would advise him on ad designs and what attracts young people to theater) but says that promotion costs keep them from getting too far off the ground. The Victory’s Gobetti and Ormeny echo this complaint, claiming they increasingly find their time and modest resources diverted to audience research and advertising.
Few artistic directors of shoestring-budget theaters are likely to happily embrace the news that their survival depends on creating R&D staffs tasked with tracking shifting audience whims. Far more nebulous and vexing is the question of the changing nature of the 21st-century audience itself. No one interviewed for this article would venture a guess as to what the effects of new entertainment technologies spell for the future, although some noted changes in current audience behavior.
“People are more isolated and don’t feel a need to engage with others,” says East West’s Tim Dang. “During intermissions I see people playing games on their telephones. I like to introduce myself to audience members during intermission and thank them for coming to the theater. Some younger people are taken aback because I’ve approached them and invaded their space.”
Overall, the mood is one of guarded optimism that the downsizing and Netflixing of entertainment will produce a backlash benefiting live theater.
“You’re seeing on one end of the spectrum in the corporate-produced media a trend to make things smaller, individualized, to the size of an iPod screen,” says Greg Reiner of the Actors’ Gang. “Theater has always been about making stories and characters larger to create a communal experience. Actors’ Gang is especially about creating civic dialogue — we raise big topics, we paint on a large canvas.”
In the end, theater's best hope lies in an atavistic need to witness spectacle, large or small, within a group. Those of us who presently find ourselves the “kids” at opening nights may one day wish we weren’t. In time, after all, we could end up becoming the little old ladies crinkling wrapped candy or the dozy gents snoring through soliloquies — and discovering ourselves very alone.?