Favorite Quotes Volume XIX: A contrarian quote.

This entry marks a first for the Favorite Quotes category on The Producer’s Perspective: this is the first time that I’ve ever quoted someone twice.

One of the most common doomsday questions heard in marketing offices all over the country is, “How are we ever going to get people in their 20s to come to the theater???”
Usually there’s so much silence after that query, you’d think God pushed the mute button.
Last week, when that question came up at the Broadway League Conference Town Hall Meeting, Producer and now Two-Time Producer’s Perspective Quotee Mike Isaacson  gave us this goodie:

Why is it that we are always asking how we’re going to get people in their 20s to the theater?  Do you ever hear nightclubs wondering how they are going to get 50 year olds to go drinking until 4 AM?

Obviously Mike didn’t mean that we should ignore young audiences altogether. He knows, as you should, that (insert Whitney Houston’s voice here) “the children are our future” and we should dedicate time and resources towards expanding that audience.
But that time, and those resources, should be proportional to where the majority of our audience comes from (which can differ for each show).
And could it be that theater, like an expensive wine or traveling to see the pyramids, is an acquired taste that comes with age . . . and more importantly, disposable income?
If you’re in your 20s, and you only see one show a month now, will that increase when you’re in your 30s?  40s?

Let’s hope and pray that this happens.  Actually, let’s do more than that. Let’s do something about it as well.

  • RLewis says:

    How do you get people in their 20s to go to the theater? – Wait 30 years!

  • Barby Dignan says:

    The theatre community can’t wait until it’s audience is in its forties. Unlike drinking at a nightclub, becoming an active, intelligent theatre-goer takes practice and time. I love opera because it was introduced to me as a child. My friends in their forties and fifties who never heard opera as children hate it. Drinking and dancing are activities young people do willingly and with verve! Not a good analogy to attending live theatre. We need more playwrights writing material for young people and about young people. And we need to give huge discounts for those under thirty who want to attend a performance. They will be our season ticket holders in ten years. It is a good investment.

  • Watching from afar (Dallas) it seems that so much B’way information is inside baseball. Fine for a musical theatre geek like me. But for a 20 year old? If only you guys could convey that seeing live theatre is like playing your video game with a broken joystick.
    Remembering back to my “band days” in my 20’s and playing in White Plains, we’d go into the city to see shows on our day off. The power of watching people do what they do–live–right in front of your eyes. was spectacular then and it still is today. Good luck!

  • Brad Resnick says:

    I do think it’s important to get younger people to theater, but I also agree that it can be something that comes with financial stability. However, if that is the case, we first need to actually get them out to see one show a year so that they can get hooked and spend more money when they “mature”. Getting them there in the first place is the hard part. Maybe have a couple times a year where 30 and under can get tickets for an affordable twice. Roundabout does this with HipTix.

  • DHicton says:

    The way to get more people, not just young ones, into the theatre is to lower the goddam prices from their current obscene and counterproductive levels. $100+ for a ticket to a Broadway show and $80 for off-Broadway is just ridiculous. For the amount of one B’way ticket, one could see four to six smaller shows off-off-Broadway, encompassing a greater variety, and as is always the case with less-commercial theatre, there’s always the possibility you might witness something truly original, or at least something you’ve never seen before. That doesn’t happen when people shoot sometimes their entire annual theatre wad on one show, generally something safe, family-friendly, vacuous, and empty, like the Disney stuff. Ho-hum. It also gives theatregoers the phony impression that THAT is what theatre is all about: live-action cartoons.
    The idea is to get folks into the HABIT of going to the theatre on a continuing basis, to get them used to the RITUAL of dressing up and going to see a live play or a live musical, or even a live concert. That’s the only surefire way to build up your audience, and the only way you’ll do that is to lower prices across the board.
    Frankly, I blame Garth Drabinsky for having escalated the amount of advertising done per show to ridiculous levels and for building huge, expensive theatres, both of which activities jacked up ticket prices. His embezzling didn’t help matters either.
    Also to blame have been the various performing and production unions — Equity, IATSE, Musicians’ Union, etc — which seem concerned with their members’ welfare to the exclusion of the over-all health of the theatre industry. And it’s not particularly helpful, moreover, when producers hire high-salary divas who may or may not develop mercury poisoning.

  • Richard says:

    This was a great post. It provokes real thought. There are so many ways to slice and dice this question. I’m not going to pretend to have the answer to how to perceive the situation. I’m going to talk about my personal position. I am in my 40’s. I saw much more theater in my 20’s and 30’s and early 40’s. I hardly go to theater anymore.
    Judging from contemporary reports, the last couple of seasons have sprouted a number of things that are very good and worth seeing. The trouble: Like Pavlov’s dog, I have been conditioned. I have been so conditioned to being disappointed that I can’t think rationally about choosing to see anything. Of the last dozen things I saw, every one (except for one, actually) had deep enough flaws that I left with a bad taste in my mouth and couldn’t help but wonder what a waste of money the project was.
    I would encourage young people to go to the theater, and, in fact, many people consult me for advice about what to see. But–many, many producers and artistic types (directors, designers, etc.) have postures embedded in their approach to delivering a story. These postures are great if you share them, but it seems that assume that everyone either does think the way they do or that they should think the way they do. You have an inside group of people talking among themselves about how to make an outside group change its behavior, but there’s rarely a thought given to the idea that the product needs work.
    Someone like me tries to be objective about the way a theme was treated and you can’t help but realize that you’re making excuses.
    I believe that in the 1930’s and 1940’s people in their 20’s did go to the theater. Maybe people in their 20’s today will go to the theater when theater changes.

  • Tracy says:

    I’m hearing “Get them while they’re young, Eva” in my head, but is seems the folks at Wicked already have it figured out. The show appeals to the age group AND their parents who are – let’s not forget – likely paying for the tickets. It’s a consistent top grosser after years in town and on the (multiple repeat cities) road. I bet it is still at the top of the money list even if we level the Gershwin number of seats playing field. It’s producing a new generation of theatergoers 8 times a week.
    Judging by Wicked, it would appear that to get them in the door we need a story that resonates with the angst riddled age group, Disney (but with an edge) clean for the parents, an audition song for the new crop of future Broadway stars and a marketing and merchandising dream come true.
    Chicago just came through my town and the seats were filled with every dancer from virtually every dance studio and performing arts school in the county. Age? 14 – 25.
    If you build it for them, they will come. Every show and every show dollar to its demographic.

  • My feeling is that it’s Disney Theatricals that has been building the next generation of patrons. It’s easy to complain about what other people are doing wrong but more important to recognize those that do it right.
    As far as the performing arts unions being the problem, they are there to protect the working professional from having to sacrifice they lives and their art for the benefit of those who observe rather than do. Those who demand excellence at a discount.

  • I agree with you about Disney. I think they’ve done a terrific job, and they’ve also endeavored, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to push the artistic envelope.
    But I have to ask . . . are you talking about Producers when you say those people that “observe rather than do?” Am I one of those people?
    I’d have to take exception to that one.

  • No Ken, on the contrary. I was referring to a previous post that seemed to be a laundry list of the shortcomings of the theatre scene. Sounded like a touch of envy in the complaints.

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