Theatre of Change

Theatre is about entertainment. Theatre is about insight. Theatre is the art form that transcends cultural barriers and reaches out to humanity in a vital form. An institution so old, in many ways it can be argued that theatre is what defines culture. Despite what theatre is, theatre is not permanent. As an art form, it is fluid and transformational. As an institution, it is susceptible to the vagaries of life. As a business, it is forever in intensive care and on life support. Yet, theatre always finds a way to flourish, it transforms to meet its most vital need – the need for the human spirit to find a way to reach out and commune with the world. As a community, it is diverse, disparate and far flung, but it is also dedicated to the ever, unending search for meaning in life.

Los Angeles theatre is quickly rushing to its next significant transformation. It’s a transformation somewhat akin to evolution, change dictated by the need to survive. Economic pressures, while ever present are certainly intensified when the economy in general is in trouble. Social and demographic changes demand reflection, and challenge the creative to remain relevant. Stir the challenges and demands in with the rich well of creative spirit and what will emerge is a stronger, healthier and more relevant theatre community. It’s the way it has always been.
It’s the way it is now.

At a recent meeting, many of the people responsible for the guidance of individual theatres around the city gathered to find a path for the theatre community. While it may be premature or even optimistic to expect an incomplete group to plan for the whole, it is encouraging to see an awareness of need. What is the need? It is the growing need for theatre in Los Angeles to be recognized for what it is – a driving, vital force that impactsthousands of lives on a daily basis. This need arises not just from a want of recognition; it also comes from a more visceral need to be keenly relevant.

Just as economists are claiming that a perfect storm is responsible for our financial malaise, a perfect storm is prompting the need for a change in the way theatre is seen and perceived in Los Angeles. The combination of financial stress, elaborate home entertainment, and the increased number of potential theatre patrons totally unaware of theatre is prompting the community to examine itself and seek modern solutions.

Addressing the financial, theatres offer a wide variety of solutions. From pay-what-you-can performances, to reduced ticket pricing, it would be safe to say that most theatre is available for less than it costs to go to see a movie. As home entertainment becomes more sophisticated, it becomes harder to leave the house, but let’s not forget that the emotional impact of a communal response to the intimacy of theatre is a very important part of the theatre experience – one not duplicated at home. As to the segments of the community unaware of theatre, there are several responses: theatres creating outreach programs, theatre organizations reaching out to agencies and schools, and this publication, which we hope helps in spreading the word.

The point of all this? Celebrate. Theatre in Los Angeles is alive, vibrant, and continuing to stimulate and challenge its audience. What is asked of you as the audience is to participate, pay what you can when you can. If a discount is necessary and vital to your attendance, by all means take advantage. If you can afford to pay the face value, please pay it. It goes to support the theatre, its artist and ultimately you. As to audiences, tell your friends about the shows you see, encourage your children to attend, take your parents, share the fact that theatre is a shared experience. It reveals humanity and prompts dialogue.

Footlights is dedicated to serving this community, both the public in general and theatre in particular. To that end, we encourage your response. Allow us to be a conduit not just from the theatre to you; but a means for you, the audience, to speak to the theatre community at large. Let us know what you think, what you’d like to see, and what would make the theatre experience more memorable and pleasurable to you. By being a part of the dialogue, you will be a part of the future, and being a part of theatres future is no small accomplishment.

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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