Could these 10 things really save the theater?

Crab legs aren’t the only juicy things served up in Seattle these days.  Brendan Kiley, an e-scribe for Seattle’s The Stranger, wrote one heck of a juicy article recently, entitled, “Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves.”

The title grabs you, right?  Well wait until you read some of the ideas . . . including moratoriums on Shakespeare, encouraging boozing, and free babysitting.

You can read the firestartin’ article here.

Do I agree with all of them?  Do you?  Feel free to chime in below with your comment of choice.  But honestly, whether you agree or disagree isn’t even why I’m posting this article today.  What I love about Mr. Kiley’s couple hundred words is that he proposed some radical solutions to a real problem.

And while sometimes radical revolutions aren’t successful (Occupy Wall Street comes to mind), the one thing they always do is get people talking . . . and slowly, change occurs.

So read the article, then try startin’ a revolution of your own.


(Got a comment? I love ’em, so comment below! Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)



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  • Ken, this is the best advice I can imagine, and not just for fringe theaters, either. Thanks for posting it.
    Timothy Childs

  • Jonny says:

    That was an awesome article. New York will probably never change, but I love some of those radical ideas and hope someone is paying attention and does something with them.

  • Amyleigh1982 says:

    1) Amen.
    2/3) That’s why I stick with the little theaters – they can pretty much do whatever content at whatever pace they want.
    4/8) PLEASE!
    5/7) Ehhhh….
    6) Yes! A lot of towns are less friendly towards progressive theatre.
    9/10) Most times you work for free. Fact of life. BUT, a lot of places that offer a steady income ask that you have a Master’s plus 5+ years experience. That’s sort of crazy, especially if you are looking for people with fresh ideas.

  • FYI: Not a recent article — it was published in 2008. Not that it doesn’t remain thoughtful and provocative.

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    Lots of good ideas there. Anoter thing I’d like to see is lengthening of intermission to maybe 20 to 25 minutes. 15 is barely enough time to get a drink that in most places you can not bring back to your seat and I ALWAYS feel sorry for the poor women who are waiting in the worlds longest line to go to the bathroom and arent even near the entrace when the lights blink for act 2 starting. Oh ad renegotiate union rates and have theatre owners bring down rental. Those wouldnt hurt either

  • Joe K says:

    I half joke about it, but ever since alcohol has been demonized along with, shell we say, other things that got the creative juices flowing, it seems like all the original ideas have dried up. Some of the best writers, artists and inventors (all creative people) were bi-polar, drinkers and users of other things. They did pay the price, but what great art they made.
    Maybe we need a zone like Amsterdamn and just let things rip.
    Realestate is so true. It is impossible to get fresh new young talent to develop, fail, develop, fail then blossom when they can’t get a roof over their heads.
    Everything was dead on, but could we also put a ban on Pygmalion variations too?

  • Cam says:

    Interesting article. In todays climate theatres are taking a hit with budget cuts. I can see where budgeting becomes eve more important.
    It’s facinating to me that theatres need to find ways to bring in more people under 60. Why is that? Where are they spending their money? I was brought up going to the theatre, symphony etc. taking ballet among other things myself, and brought up my children attending the theatre too. I love live theatre and I know how much work is involved, so have a greater appreciation for it. Will offering more alcohol or babysitting really bring them in? I doubt it really. How many theatres still offer day performances for the kids? It’s a great day out and the kids along with their parents who get to go with them have the best time too! I believe that’s how you get the younger crowd into your theatre. Parents really appreciate it when you include and teach their kids. Teach them how and why to appreciate theatre. It works.

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    Lots of good ideas. Especially the one about Shakespeare. I adore the Bard, but not the self-indulgent crap that passes for him these days. When directors get over their “look at me!” compulsion to tinker with something too great for them to understand, we can bring him back.
    I don’t agree about the unions. It is not unions that have driven costs up so much, it is the cost of living generally. The golden age of American theatre happened in a unionized industry. But you could rent an apartment for $50 a month, and produce a musical for a couple of hundred thousand. I don’t know what the answer is, but making the theatre a place where no one can make a living certainly isn’t it.

  • rob says:

    all good and well, and yet your casual
    dismissal of Occupy Wall Street
    proves that you’ve missed
    the point and that you may be
    part of the problem!

  • Elise M says:

    Thanks for the share Ken! I agree with most of those ideas! We do need
    to revolutionize the theatre experience… Someone needed to say it! As a playwright and producer myself, I especially would never think of doing Shakespeare… And I am happy to say my new play to hit OB soon is def a ground breaking original, sans childcare, alcohol ala carte!

  • Erik says:

    Amen! Especially #2,3,9,10.

  • Nick says:

    Sorry, but the joy of Shakespeare is that it never gets old. It only stinks when the theater doing it has no imagination to make it timely and fresh. Having said that, the article has some other good ideas. BUT, I honestly don’t think theater needs saving — it’s pretty damn great and will outlive a lot of other media entertainment.

  • Becca says:

    Shakespeare never gets old. The way some people present Shakespeare can get old, but that’s production design, not lack of audience interest. What tends to make or break a Shakespeare production are: is it understandable, is it relatable, and is it too gimmicky. If it is understandable, that goes a great way to reach the audiences. In the same way that I have approached my teaching, the productions should answer the question “why should I care?” or why should an audience care.
    Alcohol is always good. I like the sippy cups sold at Broadway shows. Even with the high school productions I have done, concessions always were the money maker for the shows.
    I think child care would be a great idea b/c anything that makes it easier to go will help make it easier to get people to come.
    I think Mr. Kiley’s ideas are a little extreme. I think there is a place for both original work and for older pieces. It depends on the make up of your area. I think his ideas make sense in a diverse, progressive city like Seattle, but I don’t think it would work in rural GA.
    It’s a good article to get people thinking and looking at things in new ways, though–which I think is long overdue in many theatre circles.

  • Randy says:

    Some mostly terrific ideas there. That said, I think he’s way too hard on AEA. There are many ways for Equity actors to work on developing projects for basically nothing. And as for gigs beyond the R&D phase, I don’t think there’s a job on earth – in any industry – that does not deserve a living wage. And grad school has become necessary (though I think it’s ridiculous) to get a job at a university. And not all college theatre instructors are quite so pathetic as he describes…and, no, I’m not a college professor so I’m not defending or justifying my own job here. Now, if you never intend or care to teach at the university level, then the MFA is not at all necessary.
    Everything else there, great stuff.

  • Brendan says:

    I love the idea of getting people used to seeing new things, I think over here in London and probably in NY too it would be great to get people excited to see the thing that was new not the thing they’d heard of.
    Also with differences in our Union here actors can do any fringe production they wish and I believe they absolutely feed the big theaters creatively. The trouble is getting the funding for them! Great article.

  • Tina says:

    Who says Occupy Wall Street has been unsuccessful? Didn’t President Obama just assign a taskforce of States Attorneys General that just started the first of penalties and fines on the big banks?

  • Walt Frasier says:

    LOVE this article. I have attended many meetings at APAP surrounded by dinosaurs complaining about attendance etc. Creative synergistic ideas are the way the rest of the world is saving their business. It is time we theater folk do the same. I know you and I both survive as producers by breaking the rules every day. Time for the rest of the world to update their mission statements. NON – PROFITS need to think like FOR PROFITS.

  • I’ve spent a lot of time in Seattle. THE STRANGER is a snarkfest alt weekly that pans almost every film, play and concert in town. I always imagined its writers as geeky, smartass 25-year olds drinking endless coffee (it’s Seattle) in dark turtlenecks as they complained about and put down everything older people created. So much so, that I stopped reading the paper when I was in Seattle. I love a good chomp of brilliant snark (being a New Yorker) but this paper was too Po-Mo bratty for its own good.
    It also doesn’t print a comprehensive list of what’s playing in Seattle’s live theatres, from what I recall.
    Rock on.

  • Seth Duerr says:

    Clearly, I can endorse a complete moratorium on Shakespeare. Though, I’d happily do without any more productions of HAMLET for the rest of my lifetime.

  • Seth Duerr says:

    Typo! Typo! I CAN NOT endorse a complete moratorium. And, apparently, I can not properly use a keyboard.
    Still happy to scrap all Hamlets, though.

  • Phillip Rudy says:

    I’m (as always) concerned when I see people blaming unions as a cause for theatre not being able to maintain a sustainable business model. Especially when it comes to Equity. This article alone blames AEA at least three times for being inflexible. In reality, Equity is EXTREMELY flexible with developing and new theatres within the confines of both federal and state minimum wage laws. Theatres often dismiss Equity out of hand and simply don’t reach out to the union. The simple fact is that without a union card, I wouldn’t be able to make any kind of living as a stage manager (and believe me working even on full union contracts, I’m still in the poverty zone. Did you know that most SPT or small regional theatre contracts are around $250 a week?). It isn’t one persons fault that theatre budgets and national funding are shrinking so to place the blame on and attack the union that protects the artists on stage and behind the lights every night will completely sink the business because without some kind of living wage protection, there can be no full time professional artists and no full time professional theatre. AEA or any theatrical labor union cannot turn into something so powerful that it can’t be controlled like a lot of trade unions (such as the UAW with GM) so when everyone has to make sacrifices to keep the doors open, they become totally immovable. But, if AEA allows non-union work or goes even lower on it’s regional and SPT rates, people will just go back to bartending and baristaing because there at least they can make minimum wage.

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