On Sunday, October 17, the Boston Globe wrote an article entitled "Rapid Fire Shifts Have Boston's Theater Community Rattled." This has, indeed, been a couple of weeks of news that impact the theater community. But does it serve the conversation to lump them all together? Are we missing parts of the story? Here is the post I wrote on Facebook when sharing this story:
The conflation of issues in this article does not serve the nuanced discussion that must move forward. First of all, this quote “Boston currently has too many theaters, too many seats, and not enough productions to keep all of the theaters occupied all the time” is about commercial theater spaces. Boston does not have enough space for small and fringe companies. Boston does not have a dedicated revenue stream to support the arts, which could help offset the costs of using spaces for these small and fringe groups, in addition to supporting other artists, venues, mid-sized groups, and service organizations. Colleges developing smaller new spaces is a step, but only if the colleges assure community use a percentage of the time, with costs defrayed for small groups.
The Huntington Theatre is critical to the arts ecology, and an economic driver in the city. Never mind the number of people who get a paycheck from the Huntington, but also run small theater companies. Or the Boston area schools that benefit from the Huntington's programs. Or the businesses around the Huntington who thrive because of the use of the building. I look forward to seeing how the city supports the efforts of the Huntington to make sure development includes a theater. That kind of thinking is what can help change the game for many artists in the city. BTW, when I talk about theater space, I am talking about space that can be used for all performing arts (theater, music, dance). Theater is an inclusive art form.
Finally, the ticket cost conversation that comes up in the comment sections. Just stop. There is a place for large commercial theatrical productions. Many/most of us fell in love with theater because of one of those shows. They are expensive to tour, and have very high production values. But if your family can't afford $150 a ticket, and you want them to see a show, I can offer you alternatives at a fraction of the cost. Even the larger theater companies in the area (Huntington, ART, ArtsEmerson in Boston, for example) offer a wide range of prices. The cost of theater tickets is a disingenuous argument for why theater shouldn't be supported.
I am an arts advocate who has been part of this community for 30 years. I care deeply about all of this, and look forward to someone asking me to be part of the conversations around change. #ArtsMatter for a lot of reasons, and we all must care about how Boston supports the arts. This is the front line of a fight for the soul of our communities.
We are coming up on the anniversary of the closing of the Factory Theatre. It can be argued that that event had as much impact on the overall theater community as any of these other events. Small does not mean insignificant. Ripples become waves. The issues are complicated, but solvable.
As StageSource celebrates 30 years as a connector for the theater community, we are taking this opportunity to look backwards on the history of theater in our region. As importantly, we look forward to continue efforts to strengthen our community, support the entire theater sector, and ensure the arts are part of the fabric of our society.