It feels like ever since the Dionysians danced around the giant penis in the first days of Greek theatre, the debate has been raging. I can see it now: half of the revelers, drunk and having a debauched good time, insist that thier theatre ritual is for fun, entertainment. The other half are arguing that, in order for it to be useful, catharsis, an emotional reaction in the audience must have taken place.
It’s thousands of years later, and the debate rages on.
What is theatre’s job? To provoke, or to entertain?
Here in Vancouver, it feels like we are in two very divided camps. There are the bigger theatres, who, for reasons of having to pay rent and actors and amazing set and costume designers, have big budgets, and are very reliant on box office revenue for thier business model to work. Then, there are other, smaller, independent theatre companies that have lower overhead and a passion for the latest controversial script.
The big theatre companies have to produce stuff that they know is going to sell tickets. Hence the reason Les Miserables goes into previews this week here in Vancouver. The smaller companies refer to the work they do as more of a capital “A” Art: holding up a mirror to society. Check out this recent post by Travis Bedard on that subject and its consequences.
I don’t really have the answer. As a marketer, I believe there is space in this world for both. The audience that may go to Les Miserables might not be interested in seeing Dying City. They are different markets. Or maybe they will. What I do know is this: every time someone goes to the theatre, we have a chance to convert them. If they go, and they like it, because it is either entertaining or provocative, there is a good chance they’ll come back. And if they come back, maybe they’ll be more daring, and try something that is out of their comfort zone.
So let’s just produce good theatre. Good theatre that makes people want to come back for more entertainment or to make them think. Because at least they are going to the theatre.
I welcome your thoughts on this debate in the comments below.