Monday, April 16, 2007

Support the Arts by Showing Up

For some reason, during rehearsals for the show I'm in, I've noticed just how much work is actually put into "art" - be it theatre, galleries or whatever. In my case, theatre, there's not just all the (considerable) work actors and actresses put in - but also people who help with all the technical aspects, people who help creating costumes and sets and even people who show up to help usher and otherwise help in some capacity. It wouldn't be exaggerating to say that over 1,000 man hours has been put into the musical I'm in - Moby Dick - and we're just a college theatre company. A similar amount of time was probably spent at any reader's nearest high school production. It's a lot of effort, but there's one thing that makes it all worth it: people showing up.

One of the interesting things about theater at a non-professional level is that it's still tremendously expensive to produce. Despite the fact that no profits are made, rights to a particular show don't come cheap. Costumes and sets take serious cash. In fact, even if every show sold out at my production of Moby Dick (and it won't), the UMASS Dartmouth Theatre Company may just break even. When I did Urinetown: the Musical, which was a professional-calibre show and received overwhelmingly positive reviews, the production was thousands in the red - and it was by all means a reasonably cheap show to put on (our set was fairly inexpensive and only a handful of costumes needed to be rented).

There are two reasons for the redline: there aren't nearly as many people going to these events as one would like - even when we advertise big time, put on a great show and get great reviews. The second is we consider breaking even a luxury: the University is very generous to the Theatre Company, so we're able to have very low-cost tickets. It's just nice to have people show up, but that seems like a tremendously hard thing to do. At $3 and $4 dollars for student tickets and $10 for adults, I don't get it. Why not show up?

Seriously, why don't people who live in a community not show up to their local college or high school production? They're often very good. When I was in high school, our musical productions were about as good as they are at UMASS Dartmouth - and they're pretty darn good here. Tickets are cheap, less than going to the movies or going out to the 99. Is it just that people don't know when these shows are, despite the massive attempts at advertising? Is it that people are out of practice in actually caring about community events? The same could be said for local artists putting on some kind of show, be they dancers, photographers or painters.

People often complain about a lack of activities, but there's so much more going on if people would ever consider getting out of their typical mold. Society would be a better place if more people showed up. Everyone would have more fun, from the audience to the people spending all their time rehearsing, painting or doing whatever. Furthermore, a larger audience would encourage more artistic endeavors and community events - and diversify what's already there. A sense of community is something seriously lacking in America, but it's only lacking because people aren't taking advantage of what's already here and present.


Ed in Swampscott said...

Personally, I feel so tired at the end of the work day the only things I usually do are my hobby (video) or watch tv or read.

Me and wife went to "Together in Harmony" to watch the Marblehead, Swampscott, and Salem choruses sing, but that's only because our son is in the Swampscott chorus. We also went to a Swampscott basketball game.

Is it because we, as Americans, work longer hours than the rest of the world? Face longer commutes? More stressed out about losing our middle-class jobs? Fear of falling?

Even football attendance is off. I remember from the 1960's, literally the whole town of Swampscott would attend the games.

When even football attendance is down, you know the arts don't have a chance.

Ryan Adams said...

Work certainly does come to play, but even if everyone tried to go to one thing every two or three months that would be nice. Surely, we do that anyway - whether it's going to dinner or hitting a movie.

I'm right with you on work hours and the difficulty of today's work force, especially where two people essentially have to work today to earn a similar standard of living as they did 50 years ago and changes need to be made (for example, I think salaried jobs should still provide overtime - no more of this expectation that people work 50-70 hours a week and get paid as if it were 9-5).

By the way, by showing up to your son's chorus and a town basketball game (nd by blogging, as you do, I think you meet the criteria of community activity by a long shot.

Anonymous said...

I think you can attribute a lot of our societies avoidance of art to television, and the media in general. With a bagillion different specialized channels you can come home from work after a long day at work, turn on Fox News, and know your going to agree/disagree with everything you see. Watching O'Reilly and Hannity you hear exactly what you want to hear: one's own opinions-positive or negative- are reinforced creating this infinte feedback loop of doom. Is Fox News the reason people aren't going to attend UMD theatre productions? No, but when everything you want to agree or disagree with, is available atthe push of a button, a production I may be indifferent to is a lot less appealing.

Kind of a convoluted post only tangentially related to the topic but eh whadya gonna do. Perhaps I'll expound upon the idea of the specialized nature of the media/other stuff and the infinte feedback loop of doom it causes,in the yet to be started blog that has taken up residence in my brain and has been trying to escape for months now.

And for the record I don't go to plays because I find them horribly boring and painfully meaningless but painting and writing and all other enjoyable art should be attended.

Ryan Adams said...

Interesting thoughts - and I think you're onto something there. There are no doubt dozens of reasons - and I'm sure that's one of them. Entertainment to the lowest common denominator makes local community art - be it theater or gallaries or something - much more difficult to watch.

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