Nobody Is Going To Save The Arts

Unless the audience is the hero of the story...

Award-winning producer Sonia Friedman wrote an article stating that British theatre is on the brink of collapse. Without state intervention, seventy percent of Britain’s theatres will be insolvent by the end of the year, and the lockdown will likely last longer than that. 

The big solution is government protection. Let’s have a rent freeze for all culture venues. Let’s have unemployment insurance for everyone in the arts, and all of the businesses who rely on the arts. Let’s have interest free or forgivable loans to keep organizations alive. 

This might not happen. The Upright Citizens Brigade shuttered its longtime space in New York. Others will certainly follow. And there are many other industries suffering right now too, all clamoring for help. 

But theatre has been through rough times before - plagues, war, famine, repressive totalitarian regimes and economic crashes. Not to mention the advent of radio, movies, TV and the Internet. People still have a deep and abiding need to experience stories as a collective, to have the human experience explored and recreated in person.

Institutions may crumble, and careers may be lost, but the arts will bounce back. Here’s how I see it happening:

-Audience-centric content. Pretension won’t cut it. Neither will stuffiness, mediocrity or going through the motions. Audiences who subscribe because they think it’s nice to support culture won’t be back. The theatre that grows through the wreckage will need to be accessible, passionate and knock people’s fucking socks off. Anything that gets people out of their safe, disinfected houses, shelling out from their dented bank accounts has to be so good that they can’t help but tell everyone they know with the bug-eyed fervor of a zealot.

-Small, scrappy artists. The more spoiled a person - or an organization - has been by steady success, the harder it is to adapt. It’s the cockroaches who’ll survive - the hustlers, those used to making do with a half-assed venue and a lighting board that only kind of works, who can scale up or down depending on the situation, who can play to a single digit audience and blow their minds, who are used to taking chances and following the strange inspirations that bubble up from the unconscious, who can get kicked in the crotch by critics or bad luck or indifferent funding bodies, shake it off and put on a show that’s better than the last one, who’ll still create even in the apocalypse, because they just have to. 

There’s no better time to be a self-starter. Cultivate your adaptability. Look for the hidden opportunities others miss. Take that good idea you’ve been keeping up your sleeve and get to work on it. Don’t hold back on the love and effort you put in. Help rebuild what’s collapsed. Give as many as people as you can that much needed catharsis. We need you. The world needs you.

-special thanks to TJ Dawe for the collaboration.

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