Live art is dying
In recent years, the performing and live arts have suffered due to a lack of ticket sales and a stigma that surrounds "theater kids." I'm here to set the record straight and plead my case why the live arts are vital to our society.
April 12, 2023
The performing arts are vital to the livelihood of our society. We listen to music as we drive, we watch television at home, and we dance at every party. The three activities I mention all stem from the performing arts; singing, acting, and dancing are deeply rooted in our culture, so why has it become shameful to be associated with them? Those who choose to participate in live theater are ridiculed for being “theater kids.” This modern-age stigma isn’t the only factor killing the live arts. Read more to uncover why the live arts are dying and how you can help revitalize the sacred art form.1
Noticing the lack of attendees
The curtain rises, the lights come up, and the music begins; in an instant, my performance begins. The bright white lights blind me as my eyes adjust to the intense gleam of the spotlights. The act begins, and I move down stage to hit my mark. I transgress the line of lights, my eyes dilate and the audience comes into focus. I’m in awe– astonished by the dismal amount of attendees– the theater was at half mast.
The 330-seat theater was nearly barren. The Manatee Performing Arts Center, which in the past was filled with eager theater goers, was desolate. The absence of attendees was unlike anything I had ever seen. In all my years of performing, I had never been greeted with a more depressing sight– after all we had done to prepare for this show, barely anyone came. As an actor who had poured time, effort, and passion into the art, it was disheartening. Performing arts is a craft that is meant to be seen; the beauty is lost without its audience.
As a performer who has received eight theatre credits in the past, I have seen countless audiences and I can’t help but notice a recent trend: live art is dying.3
The death of theater
The slow death of live theater can be seen right here in our own community. The Sarasota community is an arts driven space. It’s historically acclaimed as the cultural capital of Florida. The Sarasota/Manatee region houses many premier performing arts organizations including the Manatee Performing Arts Center, the Players Center, Venice Theatre, the Van Wezel, Florida Studio Theatre, Asolo Repertory Theatre; as well as smaller, more youth based organizations such as Rise Above, Ovation, and Spotlight.
Originally, our greater Sarasota area was a hub for live performances. In 1927, the Ringling Brothers put Sarasota on the map as a place of performance, and since then the arts community has grown exponentially. Most notably, the Golden Apple Dinner Theater was a catalyst for the growth of the Sarasota theater community. Everyone wanted to be a performer there, everyone wanted to be a patron there, and everyone wanted to support the theater.
But now things are going downhill, so what changed?
Support for live theater started to dwindle in sarasota around 2011. During this time, the Golden Apple was forced to shut down and was sold to a development company. Playbill reported that it was closed due to “decline in audience attendance and mounting debt.”
The issue of lack of attendance has only been highlighted by COVID; the New York Times noted that decline can be seen “from regional theaters to Broadway, and from local orchestras to grand opera houses, performing arts organizations are reporting persistent — and worrisome — drops in attendance.”
The decline in theater attendance has only gotten worse since the pandemic. Theaters, such as the Players Center located in Sarasota, were forced to shut down and relocate to smaller venues.
So here’s the headline and I want us all to pay attention: Our arts community is dying and we are sitting and watching it happen.
This isn’t just a local issue, it’s an epidemic. All over the nation, theaters are shutting down. Even the most cherished and sought after theaters of Broadway were basically barren this season. NBC reports that 11 Broadway shows have closed in January alone.
Four huge Broadway successes closed: Dear Evan Hansen, The Music Man, Into the Woods, and Beetlejuice, and these were among some of the best shows on Broadway. They just couldn’t withstand the lack of audience engagement.
This is a time of crisis for all artists.
In addition to the lack of attendance, and maybe in correlation to it, the production of shows themselves have started to suffer. Original show ideas are seldom found, and if they are, the music and production is just lackluster. Original ideas and beautiful scores shouldnt be a thing of the past; however, the only shows that reap any profit are lazy, unoriginal stage adaptations of popular movies. Recently, the broadway classic, The Music Man, closed, and you’ll never guess what is taking its place– Back to the Future…
Live theater is dying, attendance is dwindling, and the art behind the shows is diminishing, but why? Good question.1
Why live art is suffering
The year is 2019. It’s a Friday night in NYC, and you’re walking along Broadway going to the TKTS Times Square ticket booth. You jump in the two hour queue hoping to secure same day tickets, but by the time you make it to the front, the big red letters dance across the screen, sold out!
Only four years ago, theaters were selling out and attendance was at a high. Now, Broadway theaters struggle to reach 80% attendance.
Ever since the beginning of 2020, Americans have become stuck in one place: home. At home, entertainment platforms like Netflix have made movie theaters redundant, Facetime acts as a substitute for in person communication, and Youtube bootlegs have rendered live theater useless. These platforms that are becoming ingrained in our daily life promote homebodyness and further the death of live art.
This recent trend is known as the “Homebody” trend, and it has been one major cause for the low ticket sales nationwide. The American public have started to become reclusive; they attempt not to venture out into the public unless it is necessary. Grocery shopping has become grocery delivery, eating out has become doordashing and watching movies have become Netflix. American society has created modes that further implement homebodyness into American society.The stark drop in ticket sales is predominantly due to the American trend of “homebodyness.”
I mean, why go to the movie theater or play and spend $50 when you can stream the same production on Amazon Prime for $6.99. Because Americans have immense access to highly engaging home services, why would they go out?
This homebodyness harms the theater community because it dissuades the public from attending shows.
Not to state the obvious, but theater in its most vivid form is live. When the audience sees a production in a pre-recorded showing, it misconstrues the experience and the true gift that is theater.
The sad fact is: no one cares.
In recent times, theater has gained the unwarranted stigma that it’s “lame,” which deters younger generations from seeing shows. They think musical theater is “cringy,” and this conception is killing the art form.
Another major reason theater is diminishing in popularity is the root of many other issues in America: inflation. Ticket prices are at an all time high, making theater inaccessible to the majority of Americans. Broadway theaters charge anywhere from 150 to 400 dollars per ticket. This makes lower income families unable to afford a trip to the theater. Even local theaters are charging around 40 dollars per ticket, which for families living with lower incomes could equate to three pasta dinners at Carrabba’s.
Inflation and homebodyness work hand-in-hand. Theater attendance is at a low because ticket prices are up and homebodyness is up; homebodyness is up because it is cheaper to stay in than blow your money at the theater. And unemployment is up and inflation is making prices soar, so really the theater community is at the mercy of economics.
Until the economy can stabilize, theater trends and attendance will remain an issue.3
How we can revitalize theater
Obviously, I am not an economist or a fortune teller. I cannot predict economic trends, nor can I offer any insight into why the market is the way it is; however, I can say that the only way to truly fight this trend is on the front line: go to live theater.
Sarasota is a community rich with live art. At least once a month, a show at a local theater will be playing. These shows bring together communities, adults and youth performers, who dedicate their time to the arts in order to provide live entertainment to their community.
Just by going to see a show and posting your location, you can bring attention back to the arts. If your peers see that you’re there, they’ll be more inclined to go and enjoy the art form. Find a group, go and spend a Friday night at the theater with your friends. The more young people who openly support theater and bring awareness to the medium, the better chance that the theater stigma will be ended and live art will be saved.
Saving live art will preserve the life lessons it has to teach. What would happen if no one went to see Shakespeare? Where would be without the cultural phenomena of Grease, Hamilton, and West Side Story? Who would the amazing actors be without a place for their passion to flourish?
The arts are what keeps society alive, so get out there and help revitalize this sacred art!2