The death of theater

April 12, 2023


Sarabeth Wester

The attendance rates for theater have plummeted and here are the consequences.

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.

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