First of all let me say, on the question of why don’t people go to the theatre. Of course people go to the theatre. But for the purpose of this quickly put together piece, I’m more concerned with those people that don’t go to the theatre. But should.
Theatre has, in my opinion, like many of the arts been hijacked.
In simple terms because it is such an enjoyable medium, it didn’t take long for shall we say, ‘people with money’ (no better way I can put it as I want to stay away from terms like ‘Upper’ & ‘lower class’, but you get my gist?), noticed there was profit to be made.
Rich people decided they could make some cash by taking control and keeping it (theatre) for themselves. In other words, sell it to their rich friends and acquaintances.
History shows us that for instance, during Shakespeare’s time and before, theatre was for the masses. A popular and exciting experience that dealt with the issues of the times. An entertainment for the ‘great unwashed’ to enjoy in their own way. Theatre was an adjunct to the public house. What could be better? A pub with entertainment. And theatre was cheap. Therefore… popular and packed.
Naturally, it wasn’t that long before theatre’s success was noticed by profiteers & businessmen as a hub of money-making activity. A business proposition if there ever was one. But work was needed.
It had to be handled correctly and above all…sanitised. Cleansed. Made fit for those used to comfort and getting their own way, those with the real money to spend.
The first thing the moneymen had to do was to make the theatre appear inclusive. That it was only available to the chosen few. That to enter on in, there were now certain ‘rules’ that had to be followed.
To make the point, over time a Dress and Behavioural code was introduced.
A sort of ‘myth’ was spread that to enjoy this ‘new form of entertainment’ required not only wealth but also manners and civility. Or to put it another way ‘CLASS’.
Naturally, the drinkers and ribald theatre go-ers of old, faltered.
The loud, do-anything, just enjoy yourself atmosphere of the theatre soon became a thing of the past. And the ordinary citizen found themselves wanting in the required evening suit or ball gown department.
To top it off came the inevitable…the price rise.
The theatre that the average citizen had come to love and look forward to after a hard week on the mudflats was now out of sight and most definitely out of pocket.
The task of stopping the so-called riffraff from polluting the stalls was a success. Theatre became and still is a pastime for those with money to spend.
But it goes even further…word was spread that a certain educational level was needed to really enjoy the theatre. That the stories behind the plays were far too intellectually demanding for the average citizen, especially those who worked on the land tending mud.
Playwrights were offered a standing that implied that they were somehow purveyors of the psychological. That their stories were beyond the scope of average unread men and women. Everything had deep or double meanings and plays were no longer presented with a beginning, middle and end.
If you, poor average citizen came expecting to enjoy this new theatre then you were in for a shock. You would leave puzzled, out of place and with a serious headache. That’s if you could afford it in the first place.
The ploys on plays (see what I did there?) worked. The takeover was successful
To this day the average citizen does not go to the theatre.
The TV set offers a cosier, ‘safer‘ experience in the comfort of your own home which is a great sham and shame. To go to the theatre as something to be done naturally has been forgotten. And as usual, so good was the highjacking the general public does not know or has forgotten what it is missing.
BUT, (there is always a ‘but’) perhaps times are slowly, very slowing changing maybe the theatre is waking up to its past sins?
Lacking in audiences’ and therefore their life-blood theatres are at last dropping prices or at the very least allowing special days and times for the peasants to begin to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
Playwrights (not all) are once again attempting to make sense and above all communicate their ideas so that the majority can understand and perhaps above all recognise them.
And thankfully, the bollocks of so-called theatre etiquette is at last being dropped (although it is not unknown for some (snobs) to insist on wearing fur coats and evening dress on First Nights).
People are returning to theatre slowly. Yet there is still a lot to do.
The rise of the actor and playwright as Personality, Prophet and Seer has to be curtailed and they have to return to looking as themselves as the tellers of stories, our stories.
Like so many successful and money-making ventures theatre now has university courses to teach ‘how to..’ Not necessary. A storyteller is born not taught and if skills need honing (which they will do), the stage will do that.
Which leaves the Last Stand.
Amateur theatre and the myriad of companies spread up and down the country are so very important. They are at at the root of life’s experience. This where it all begins. Where the stories themselves begin their journey. Where they come from. Where the best actors and playwrights, the purveyors of the art always come from.
They are to be cherished. Continually fed with talent and those just wanting to explore. Above all kept free from the wanna-bees and those who see theatre as a gravy train and the route to a fast buck.