Archive for the ‘American Theatre’ Category

Theater Impact

July 22nd, 2009 No comments

In 1992, according to a report from the National Endowment for the Arts1, an estimated 13.5% of the U.S. adult population attended a live dramatic theater event.  This was up from 11.9% in 1982. 


In 1992, this estimated 13.5% represented between 24 and 26.2 million adult Americans2.  Further, the NEA reported that there was a frequency of attendance of 2.4 times per person, meaning that roughly 60.2 million attendances of a live dramatic theater event were recorded in the United States.  As this study was not repeated for 2002, it is somewhat difficult to gauge the trend, but if the trend has been sustained, 15.1% of the U.S. adult population attended a performance in 2002. With an estimated adult population of 216 million in the United States that means that nearly 33 million Americans attended a theatre event in 2002 and if the same 2.4 frequency of attendance applies, 79.4 million attendances would have been recorded. To put this in perspective, in 2007 Major League Baseball gleefully reported 79 million people attended baseball games in the United States3. The data described above indicates, at the very least, that there is great interest in theatre in the United States, and other factors point to the impact that active and successful theatres have on their communities.  For instance, the June 24th Plain Dealer article presents evidence that successful theatres are a boon to revitalizing neighborhoods and increasing economic development4.  A fact further confirmed by the same NEA report mentioned at the outset, which concludes that:

Dynamic forces shape [theater] participation patterns in each community, including characteristics of the resident and nonresident markets, the supply of producing and presenting activity, the availability of suitable performance facilities, as well as local traditions and history."  And further, that vital [theater-going] communities will exist where vital theatre producing communities are active and available. 

The report specifically identifies highest theatre participation rates in "Seattle/King County (WA) where a thriving theatre community was observed, including playwrights, actors, and a plethora of small, experimental ensembles known collectively as ‘Seattle’s fringe theaters.’" 

Cleveland, Ohio, certainly has the potential of becoming one of the most successful theatre communities in the United States.  It has a diverse mixture of urban education centers and populations, interested young artists, and established veteran performers, directors, designers, and technicians combined with an historic economic downturn that has left numerous, low-cost spaces accessible and available for use.  This is to say that established, highly-priced, conservative theaters no longer hold the keys to gates of theater entertainment in the Northeast Ohio community. (A fact pointed out in a recent speech on local theater.)

Still, formal external funding sources seem to be the meat and potatoes of most arts organizations: either government sources (such as the newly created Cuyahoga Arts and Culture grants) or foundation sources.  These constitute one set of external stakeholders. While it is easy to see these sources as not only important but a possible bounty, reliance on these sources does not seem to me overly wise or recommended.  Changes in funding priorities or changes in government policies can bring a drought to stream very quickly.  Additionally, one of the dangers in accepting funding from a foundation is that there is some expectation of programming to go along with it, that an organization might, like one sister in Cinderella, cut off her toes to fit the shoe.  This fact is made poignantly clear by Mike Daisy in his article How Theater Failed America, when he writes:

Better to invest in another "educational" youth program, mashing up Shakespeare until it is a thin, lifeless paste that any reasonable person would reject as disgusting, but garners more grant money.5

This may be a cynical viewpoint, but if it weren’t true there wouldn’t be a phrase for it in the nonprofit "biz": mission drift.

But if not foundations or government, what then?  Ticket sales are an important part of revenue, but cannot sustain even basic and continuous organizational function, let alone full employment of an acting troupe–unless prices are terribly high.  One plan that came to me serendipitously in the form of an issue of American Theatre was to reach out to universities to cultivate new stakeholders—universities and their faculties, students, and staff.  The plan works like this: a theater sends vouchers to a college; the college distributes them to students; the students go to the theater with the voucher and get in free; the theater then bills the college for the cost of a reduced ticket–and the college takes the money out of the student life budget.  This astonishingly simple strategy accommodates the stakeholder fulfillment of two different organizations at one time, as many universities have, as a part of their strategic plans, some requirement to support the communities in which they live and operate, as well as supporting their more fundamental academic mission.

1. American Participation in Theater, AMS Planning and Research Corporation, Research Division Report #35, National Endowment for the Arts, Santa Ana, Calif. : Seven Locks Press, 1996

2. Stats based on calculation of 13.5% x the U.S. adult population at the time as reported in the Statistical Abstract of the United States for 1992.

3. Bloom, Barry M. 2008. MLB salary increase lowest since ’04. December 4. (Accessed online, December 8, 2008).

4. Litt, Steven. 2007. Energizing Detroit-Shoreway; Theater renovations, new building at the heart of neighborhood revitalization. June 24. The Plain Dealer.

Daisey, Mike. 2008. The Empty Spaces: Or, How Theater Failed America. February 5. The Stranger, Seattle’s Only Newspaper. (Accessed online December 8, 2008).

Congratulations to Raymond Bobgan

April 9th, 2009 No comments

I repeat, congratulations to Raymond Bobgan and Cleveland Public Theatre for much deserved recognition by American Theatre and the Theatre Communications Group.

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