NEA chief: Too many theaters?

Theater people are wagging their tongues about Rocco Landesman’s comment last week that seemed to suggest that America has too many theaters. Landesman, a former Broadway producer, is chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

To set the record straight, here’s a New York Times blog post that tells exactly what he said and quotes a few responses. What do you all think? To solve the funding problem, do we need to kill off theaters?

10 responses to “NEA chief: Too many theaters?

  1. It’s a good thing Orlando doesn’t have too many theaters. Demand is certainly not increasing nationwide for more of it. Saturate the market because there’s available personnel from theme parks, colleges and you’ll see everyone suffer.

  2. All good if one pays for it themselves through private funding sources.

  3. Paul Castaneda

    I will attempt to temper my reaction…what this country needs is more theater, not less. But, those theaters, given the plethora of entertainment options and the dwindling audiences everyone takes not of, must learn to temper their self interests enough to realize that unless we all collaborate and cooperate many of us will not be here in 12, 24 or 36 months. I am no expert on the national scene, but here in Orlando I have been encouraged by what seems to be a growing spirit of mutually beneficial relationships amongst artists, companies and venues. I hope it continues.

  4. As a professor in the theatre world, I sometimes get lost in the world outside ‘the bosom of Mother Academe’ as my friend as so eloquently puts it. I am attempting at this point to encourage my students one by one to go see as much theatre and read as many plays as possible. This comment by Landesman absolutely floored me “Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply.” This is the way to treat finance and budget, not an art form. While I do agree that we need to figure out a way to ‘turn a profit’ in theatre, the LAST thing I want to hear from the NEA is such a negative affirmation. This sounds like a man who has had a true disconnect between what theatre thrives on, the public, and what kills the theatre, bureaucracy. If we are going to treat theatre as ‘a business’, then we should allocate money for marketing on a national scale, figure out a way to lower prices on Broadway shows so that we can market it to the masses, and not treat it like a DYING art form, but treat it as the dynamic, living, and wonderfully vibrant art form that it is.

  5. I’ve said this before. My personal philosophy is what Ruth Gordon said: “I never got a job I didn’t create for myself.” Small theaters create jobs. Our theater, even if we only produce two or three times a year, creates jobs. We increase our audience by what we produce. We would certainly like for Mr. Landesman to help generate more money from our congress that seems to think theater artists, in general, are not important and push for more money for ALL theaters!!!!!

    Or perhaps he should just step down and get someone who sees ALL theater as viable!

  6. As a member of the audience in this digital world I find a need to connect with the alive elements of living not a shortened URL or a tweet! Theater is the one venue where is no barrier between the humanity of actors and attendees! This is not art for art’s sake; this is art for culturing and nourishing people alive, every day!

    Isn’t this key to the NEA’S mission to help fund these endeavors for people alive, playwrights, performers and attendees?

  7. Darlene Stewart

    How can we expect the theater audiences to be growing in a world where entertainment can be had for free on your ipod, smart phone or other source of digital media? What we should focus on is educating our audiences on the reasons Theater is a dynamic, viable ART form and why it is important to humans in this digital world to still have a HUMAN connection. Too many of our young audiences don’t have an opportunity to see quality theater…to understand the difference between a film image and a live actor on stage. They need to experience for themselves why one art form has the ability to create catharsis and touch the community called audience. If we continue to cut ART EDUCATION funding, I fear that the doom sayers will be correct in their assessment that the Theatre is a dying art form. Unfortunately it is true that without new audiences being born and educated eventually the old audiences will die.

  8. Here’s Landesman’s explanation of what he meant. Reactions?

  9. It’s a shocking proposal, but in all reality Landesman makes a fairly accurate assessment – and I say that as someone who desperately wants to see theater across the board succeed. However, there is little incentive for members of the community who are not already involved or invested in theater to get there. Why spend fifteen dollars for a locally produced show that, frankly, might not be any good when an average, non-theater person can spend ten bucks to see the newest Oscar-nominated film? (This doesn’t even take into account how theme-park entertainment has effected how amateur productions are perceived.) If an individual does take a risk, tries something different, and does see a community production which is high-quality then they may come back. Win. However, if they see a poor production then not only are they turned off by that company but it risks turning them off to local theater as a whole, which is a massive, bloated fail-whale.
    So yeah, I think there may be too many theaters, even in Orlando. Economic struggles of society and arts education failures aside, there are presently five or six productions in their runs right now, one of which was extended. That’s not including the theaters preparing new shows or little-known companies trying to get any exposure they can. That’s a lot of theater, and not all of it is good. Orlando, for the most part, does have a collaborative, supportive, arts community; but how much of that is theater participants patting the backs of participants? How many audience members don’t know anybody in a show personally? How many audience members see any other theater’s shows? These are the harder questions that – outside of surveying audience members – can only be answered with assumptions.
    Could Orlando theater survive with fewer theaters? Absolutely. Here’s the more difficult question that I think should be truthfully assessed by everyone in Orlando who considers themselves “theater”; Could Orlando theater be better with fewer theaters? Would pulling resources, investors and the talent pools of three companies into one make higher-quality product that would get more non-theater people in seats? From that perspective, Landesman’s statement should be heavily weighed. Theater does a lot, but bad theater doesn’t help its own cause. Good theater could fix a lot of the problems community arts are presently facing.