Sunday, Nov. 9, 2008

Aging in Theatre Seats

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It was nice to see the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret packed last night for opening night of the new non-musical comedy. I remember looking out at the audience and thinking again about demographics. The election got me thinking about age—though he was born a full 15 years before me, our new President Elect is, by some estimations, a part of my generation. Yes, Obama is on the oldest possible edge of “Generation X,” but I still think of myself as being substantially younger than anyone old enough to be president. I certainly don't think of myself as being part of a generation capable of inhabting the White House. No longer in my twenties, I’ve started noticing other signs of getting older. And as I’ve noticed myself getting older, I haven’t noticed many people showing-up to theatre events who are younger than me.

 

Generally those people in a theatre audience who are younger than me are aspiring theatre professionals. Admittedly, this is a generalization, but it’s a disconcerting one. It suggests that theatre audiences are dying off. The standard argument against this goes something like this: younger people can’t afford theatre, so they generally don’t go until they’ve established themselves financially enough to start going regularly. That being said, there are wealthy people under 40 and they just don’t seem to be coming to shows. Talking to Milwaukee actor Jonathan Gillard Daly about this, (transcripts of my interview with him will appear here later this week,) he’d mentioned that part of the lack of interest in theatre in the younger generations might come from a lack of funding of the arts in schools.

 

In light of the sorry state of arts education, it was nice to get a press release from the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. As odd as it sounds, it’s nice to know that they’re still around. (I remember going there on several different occasions for an open stage hosted by then artist in residence Joseph Rabensdorf—a captivating performer now known as “Joseph Ravens” who has since moved to Chicago, I believe.) In any case, the press release announced a production of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. An impressive choice for any high school, The Skin of Our Teeth is an epic look at humanity’s drive to survive in spite of all the problems ad difficulties that chance throws at us. Possbily the most interesting thing about the Madison-born playwright's early post-modernist play is the workout it gives the third wall. On several occasions, actors directly address the audience in a way that would've seemed pretty radical for audiences when it debuted in 1942. It should be interesting to see a high school cast tackle such an interesting script.

The show runs November 14 – 16 at the MHSA on 2300 West Highland.

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