My parents were gypsies.
Okay, that’s not technically true, but it’s something I joke about all the time. You see, I’m the youngest (by far) of five kids. And by the time my older siblings were old enough to have jobs and be in high school and cook thier own Kraft Dinner, I was all of 9. So my itchy-to-travel parents had to take me along. Pretty much any time there was a break in school, Christmas, summer vacation, we were gone. I had seen the entire country twice before I even hit double-didgets.
To this day, I have a very strong wanderlust. Some days I just want to get in my car and drive. Being on the highway gives me a thrill. Going on a ferry makes me happy. I just got back from two weeks in Greece, and I have taken plenty of solo camping trips.
Traveling is expensive, and we didn’t have tons of money. Not to mention taking time off of work means no income coming in. But we always figured it out. It was a priority. So, while every scrap of clothing I wore for my entire first 12 years came in the form of a hand-me-down from my cousins or my next-door neighbour, I got so spend Christmas in California.
This gets me to thinking about the theatre. If I take my son to the theatre, just as a matter-of-fact, as “normal,” will he grow up to crave the theatre in the same way that I crave the highway? Our community often worries about the audience of the future–where will they come from? Is this the answer?
I get that theatre, especially big-ticket shows, are expensive, and buying tickets for a family of four is daunting. Perhaps some of us can implement (or already have) family passes, where they give a discount for a small family group. If we want to build an audience for the future, we have to be part of the solution.
I also get that, to some degree, the stuff that we are producing (particularly in indie theatre) might not be appropriate for younger audiences. But I also think that we might under-estimate what our kids can handle, or what might or might not be appropriate.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Are you involved with a theatre company that is trying to reach out to a younger audience? How are you making that work?
I can talk about it from a kid perspective. I’m the oldest of 5 from a working class family. I was recently asked how I ended up in the theatre with that background and realized it’s because theatre-going was part of my life from an early age. My parents liked theatre and we’d go to whatever free stuff was going on. Our local library had a theatre space and would do puppet shows and storytelling.Then my dad and I did a field trip to Stratford to get rush tickets for All’s Well That Ends Well when I was 12. (Sadly, Stratford is too expensive now.) So it became a habit.
My mother tells stories about her family doing their own plays growing up (she’s one of 9) and I guess that’s where her love came from. To me, it does seem like if you get into the habit when you’re a child, you’ll retain it. My brother isn’t into theatre but will still catch the odd show, especially when he travels to New York or London.
I do think we underestimate what children can handle. I think part of it is that we as a society have a hard time handling certain issues and we dump that fear onto the kids. They’re a lot smarter than we give them credit for.
You know, with Broadway’s shift to “family-oriented” musicals, a real push to encourage mothers (and grand-mothers) to bring the kids to shows, I’m really REALLY interested to see how theatre will evolve over the next decade or two.
Yes, Broadway is not Canada, and we don’t have that same kind of industry in this country… but that little strip of NY land has a large ripple effect. It makes me wonder what’s in store…
I think you’re on to something when you talk about introducing children to theatre as a family. My family was not into the Arts in any way, so all of my youthful exposure to the stage came from school productions or field trips. That was still enough to get me hooked, but it could have just as easily went the other way. I think the community as a whole could do so much better to jump-start the theatre-going experience at a younger age.
The Arts Club has tapped into some of this with their kid-friendly production of Beauty and the Beast and the teen-friendly Altar Boyz as well as with matinee performances to bring in high school field trips. Family discounts are just one small part, I think. There’s so much more innovation still to come in this area. Investing more carefully into the younger crowd could pay off with a whole new generation of lifetime customers.
I also started going to the theater at an early age and have cultivated a love of the theater because of it. I also grew up in New York City so theater was all around us.
I was the next to youngest in a family of 5 siblings. My older siblings were also a generation older than me. My sister took us to see “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” as a Christmas present when I was six. It was the first musical I ever saw and I was hooked! We saw musicals and plays regularly. When I was a preteen and teen I went into theater myself, taking acting classes and performing. (My heart was stolen by television so that’s the career I went into first; ironically I was an arts and entertainment critic and producer for a number of years.)
Again going to see “Joseph” was life-changing for me. Once I started working as a teen, I would save my money to go see a Broadway show on my birthday every year.
What helped was that there were half off ticket places in NY and discount ticket programs for high schools. So I also got to see a lot of shows for free in high school and college.
Getting kids and working class folks interested in theater is invaluable! If the tickets are affordable, we can come. There just needs to be more programs available out there for people that will give exposure to theater early, at a discount or for free.
And by the way til this day “Joseph” is my favorite musical 🙂
The vivid memories I have of theatre as a kid weren’t big splashy expensive shows – it’s the ones that came to my school, or the shows I saw at my dad’s school (he worked at a school for the arts). My most vivid memory was going to see our school secretary in a Christmas panto type and being allowed to sit in the wings for the second act. That was, and to this day, an amazing experience.
So it wasn’t shows that cost a lot, they were all pretty simple experiences that left a big impact…
Thanks for writing on the subject of accessibility and audience development. I absolutely agree that to address audience engagement and development we need to be part of the solution. At the Arts Club we’ve developed many programs to address access points to our productions. We always have a lower priced set of tickets available for ALL productions which are available to everyone. As well, we have very successful subsidized ticket programs specifically for students across the lower mainland and partner with organizations serving youth at risk.
I recently read a report from the Wallace Foundation in the US about a conference held in Philadelphia on “Engaging Audiences”. An important message was: “One of the key indicators of potential engagement in the arts is personal practice – that is, the ways in which present or potential audience members practice art in their own lives. This includes, for example, taking lessons, participating in church choirs, getting instruction in schools, clubs, or after-school programs, or joining with friends to try out their interests.”
It goes on to note that among a sample of Steppenwolf Theatre patrons in Chicago, 43 percent reported frequently or occasionally reading a play for their own enjoyment and 12 percent reported frequently or occasionally writing, performing in, or working on plays or musicals.
In short – people who practice arts in their lives are more likely to buy tickets to watch others perform.
This confirmed the importance of engaging our audience at a younger age as well as trying to develop programs that continually engage our patrons – through programs such as playreadings, back stage tours and meeting our artists.
Thanks again for starting this dialogue,
Arts Club Theatre Company
Well I AM a gypsy – an opera/theatre/dance and an entire ARTS gypsy! This is how it began…..
I grew up in North Vancouver with my grandmother – a painter, my mother – a pianist, so I guess I became accustomed to arts. It seemed to me, at the time, to just be there for me to take an interest in, or not.
My Aunt, the educator, (former Dean of Education at UBC), took me to my first opera when I was eleven, (Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne in Norma), at the VOA and, I INSTANTLY WAS HOOKED!!!
I worked hard for my allowance, (doing extra chores – I was motivated), and I bought every single album of Joan Sutherland at a record store on Seymour and Granville; David Y. H. Lui was the sales person in the Classical record department. I do remember him asking me, the third time I came in, (looking at me quizzically at my age), – “are you sure you know what Bel Canto is?”, and when I spouted back to him what I knew it to be he replied, in true DYHL fashion, “of course you do my dear”. I was a loyal customer every two weeks, until I had bought all of Joan Sutherland’s albums.
My junior high school social studies teacher was a “sometime” actor, (as he referred to it), at the Arts Club on Seymour and he introduced “us”, the class, to the “thee-a-tah”. I was HOOKED again; (I met Bill Millerd, who at the time was a “god” to me, really a brilliant guy; he still is!)
My wonderful grandmother decided I needed a hobby – exercise, ( it was not enough to walk two miles a day to school round trip), so she enrolled me in Norbert Vesak’s dance studio classes – modern dance at that! I was hooked, again, (not that I had any ambitions to be a dancer, but, the exercise was good for me and I did enjoy it). I worked as Norbert’s Production Stage Manager for three years.
All of these experiences led me to “my wanderlust”. I became an apprentice with the VOA, toured BC with the opera Hansel and Gretel; worked @ the Vancouver Festival with Lotfi Mansouri on Girl of the Golden West which resulted in long-term gigs at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto and @ the Opernhaus Zurich…. I never looked back. (But I did come back to Vancouver in the mid 80’s on an internship, “Arts Administration” grant from the Canada Council and subsequently was hired to resurrect the VSO Education program until I was scooped up by another orchestra outside of BC).
I have travelled and worked all over the world and I count myself as fortunate to have experienced cultures other than my own in Canada.
I chose to live in another culture, in Mexico, and I still work all over the world, (thank goodness for Skype so I don’t have to do those pounding 10 cities in one week site surveys for venues anymore and I can avoid the frigid, (to me), winters in Zurich).
People often ask me when I am working somewhere away from my home base: “Susan, what is your favorite City in the whole World?” and I say “the one I am in right now, at this very moment”.
I do not have children of my own, but, wherever I work I am always surrounded by young people, (which amazes me because I don’t think I do very well relating to those who are shorter than I am in stature), but I guess I do relate.
It is a joy to share with young people; they are the future, so why not share!
Back to wanderlust – yup I got bitten early, and yes, I can’t wait for our bi-weekly wandering from Queretaro to San Miguel de Allende, (some forty minutes away), with my husband – ya never know what will cross your path – last weekend it was a “gaggle of road runners”, ten of them…..not to mention a World Class Chamber Music Festival every August.
I encourage everyone to participate, share and introduce young people to the theatre, opera, dance, and all arts – you will find the experience uplifting…I guarantee it!