Sunday, December 19, 2004

Twin City Theater Doldrums

Interesting article about a financial downturn in the Twin City theater in the Star Tribune: Every which way: Is there too much theater in the Twin Cities?

The main thrust is speculation about why there was such a downturn in theater attendance this year:

“…Theaters across the Twin Cities area report marked drops in attendance this year, especially in the fall. Select performances at the Jungle and Old Arizona theaters, for example, drew as few as a dozen patrons each -- a terrifying sight not just for theater managers, who must dig deep to make up the lost income, but also for actors, who would rather play to people than to chairs.

Such developments potentially affect the Twin Cities area's vaunted reputation nationally as a big theater town. The effect might also be felt in the state economy, which has nearly 10 percent of its work force in the nonprofit sector, including a significant number in the performing arts.”

Some conservatives like to adopt a triumphalist attitude about such things. Theater communities tends to lean politically to the far left side of the scale, and the Twin City theater community is no exception.

But I think such reactions are seriously off the mark. Very little politics goes into the vast majority of performances. Most production companies are simply dedicated to putting on good shows, and in this town they do a pretty good job of it. There is content to satisfy almost any taste – from big production Broadway musicals, to small-house avant-garde original productions.

Speaking anecdotally, the main reason I rarely get out to the theater anymore is simply the time. A nice night of theater to me includes dinner and time for conversation as well as taking in the show. With three little ones who have bed times right in the middle of the average show time, it’s very rare that we’re able to arrange it. But on almost every occasion when we have, the shows have been well worth the ticket price.

Personally, I think the theater scene in the Twin Cities will remain vibrant. If it’s a little over-saturated now, it won’t have to shrink very far to find the right balance. We have a very strong amateur to semi-professional theatre community who will continue to put on plays, even if they only manage to break even.

I’d encourage anyone who perhaps hasn’t been to the theater in a while to check it out. With good theater companies scrambling for an audience, there are probably a lot of really good deals available. Instead of hitting a movie sometime, why not try a play instead?


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