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Monday, May 23, 2016

Your Grandma's Theater?

Image borrowed from here
I see a lot of marketing that is geared toward making traditional things and practices hipper, and more appealing to a younger audience. Not your grandma's....knitting, cupcakes, cliches, etc. Your grandmother is old and stodgy, these ads say, not in tune with what the cool kids (like you) are into. You would appreciate this (insert product here) because you are new and special and better than her.

There is this perception in theater as well. Older, retired people have most of the wealth and we must cater to their preferences in order to support our non-profit art. Theaters offer classic pieces that were popular during the youth of their target patrons, or showcase any new plays with the idea that (wink, wink) 20-30 year-olds are just so much hipper than those other age brackets. Really?

Modern theater addresses the current times, which are the times that people of all ages are living in whether they have been alive for 20 years or 60.  My paternal grandmother is 91 years old. During her youth, we were fighting WWII. My maternal grandmother is 78. She came of age during the cold war. They both remember a time before cell phones and the internet, but we keep in touch via e-mail and they follow the progress of my theatre online (hi Nana).

The last time WCTNW presented a show with swearing, I had an older couple thank me; they were huge fans of the absurdist theatre back home and appreciated some newer fare. Every time my religious (he's a minister) neighbors come to a show, I worry- will this be the one that makes them stop speaking to us? They've done nothing but offer to help. I have not yet managed to offend them with my show choices, and after Sluts, I don't think I ever will.

Grandparents, and people in general, are more resilient than you think. Young people are not smarter, or dumber than their parents or grandparents. Presenting new shows is a challenge because people like what they are familiar with, not because they will necessarily be offended by your work. Don't practice your art in fear of judgment. Create a good product, tell people about it, and don't discriminate against the people who do show up. And if people wind up offended, well that possibility is just the price of admission.

Should you bring your kids to Sluts of Sutton Drive... probably not (if they haven't hit high school yet). But your parents? Grandparents? Sure, why not. The themes of loneliness and crushing responsibility lightened by some escapism and absurdity have been playing out in front of audiences for centuries. King Lear, anyone? Charlie Chaplin? Live theatre involves risk. Fortunately, at $15 suggested donation, it's a risk you can afford.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent point, and I think it's especially relevant in the Pacific Northwest, where seniors are far less stodgy than our patron base in Oklahoma. There, people who weren't actually offended felt they had to ACT offended so people would know they were good Baptists. Here, people just like what they like. I find that incredibly refreshing. I was amazed at how cool older theatergoers were with Angels in America at OLT, for example. I suppose to some extent patrons simply choose the content they know they can handle. But yeah, if the Greeks could handle Odysseus blinding himself and the Elizabethans could handle animal guts on the stage, I see no reason why a few sex noises should drive away otherwise interested audience members.