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Theatre Education?

Originally Posted: Jun 8th, 2012 by PatrickWalsh. No comments yet [Edit]

The above title may seem like an oxymoron to a lot of people. How does one educate about a truly ephemeral art form. Of course we have the script after a performance is over, but how do we teach something that can only be experienced in a specific place at a specific time? AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, how does that education turn children into the next generation of fervent theatre audiences?

These concerns have been on my mind quite a bit the last few days. We have spent most of our time during orientation meeting with Peter, Steph, and Jesse (superlative educators as well as artistic leaders) about our KIDSTUFF shows. There have been many questions that have come up about how we need to tell a quality, engaging, story to keep these harsh critics happy. The Hangar has a long history of providing quality entertainment for Ithaca’s children. It is not unlikely to have parents bring their children back to the first place where they themselves fell in love with the magic of theatre.

I LOVE this “lineage of experiences” that the Hangar has with multiple generations of it’s community. KIDSTUFF is something that parents can come to, in the same building where they saw a show 20 years ago, and share with their children that same type of experience. They actually get to connect viscerally with one another. In the age of cell phones and twitter that is no easy task. This is why I l do theatre. For chances like that.

The Hangar is doing a fabulous job of inviting the next generation to the artistic party, but what else, as an industry, can we do? The cry I hear most often from theatrical professionals is “Our patrons are dying. How do we replace them?” This seems like the perfect place to start to raise some questions and hopefully start a dialogue about possible solutions.

I have to say that I am worried that by the time that I get the experience for my “dream job”, that job will no longer exist because our audiences will be gone. So how do we get more young people hooked on theatre early in their lives? I think that the way that the Hangar attacks this problem is fantastic. Provide the youngest possible audience with live stimuli. But we need to continue with that as the kids grow. How do we continue to react to what interests them and keep them coming to the theatre?

I think that one step is creating a hybrid department within a theatre: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT. Fill this with people from the Education, Development, and Marketing departments. Also, put at least one cultural anthropologist on staff. Use these people to find out what are the trends that are affecting and stimulating younger people and allow this research to effect programming.

What else can be done?

1) Make sure you have student discounted tickets. If it is cheap and accessible: THEY WILL COME

2) Bring the art to their turf. Student shows in their schools about topics that are important to them.

We need to put in the work to get younger audiences into the theatre. I am tired of hearing “Our audiences are dying off. What can we do?” What we can do is get creative and start thinking about all of the people who Aren’t in our theatres (and why), rather then solely focusing on the people who are there and how to keep them happy. We gotta change or be doomed as the “dead art form” that so many people relegate us to.

Thoughts? Ideas of your own? I’d love to hear and respond to them! Leave a comment!

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