In his Brooklyn Rail piece, Zachary Mannheimer suggests that theater artists could make more of an impact on the country as a whole if they organized, studied and infiltrated the smaller communities on the margins, bringing professional level arts out of the cities and into the fields. He maps out a carefully sneaky plan to seduce the locals and bring them what they need with our city level smarts and armed with collegiate jobs.
I don't disagree with any of what he's saying, to be perfectly honest. The audience for Broadway is predominantly outside of New York City. If we want plays to sell well, or theatre artists to become important to the country as a whole, I'm certain that we should do more to get the word out into the rest of the country.
While I've read a few things that would suggest to me that most artists are a bit defensive about their aspirations, I would say that I feel no shame in prefering to live in cities. There's more acess here, I spend a great deal of money for it, and I do want to have a successful career and when you want that, you go where the industry is thriving. You don't go to Alaska to harvest tropical fruit.
In that analogy, it's clear when I say Alaska, I mean Zack's Wichita, and when I say Tropical Fruit, I mean artistic praise. Let's just assume that when a producer in the great plains sees "produced in New York" on a play's resume, they're more likely to take a look at it than when they say "ran for ten years in Wyoming."
That being said, I also feel that we're underestimating the popularity of theater outside of New York. Anywhere you'll find a public high school, I'm sure you'll find at least one musical being produced. Much of my early access to Shakespeare, personally, was in Allentown PA, where Allentown College's theatre would import (yes, often from New York) top flight performers and excellent production values.
Before I go too far into disputing what Zack is claiming, I would like to add that it has a great deal of merit simply for having been said. There is a great deal of untapped interest, money and quality of life all over the country. But whether or not one has an interest in selfless evangelizing is an entirely subjective (pardon me, Zack) question. Objectively, the entire theater community would helped a great deal if we all moved to the suburbs and got our hands dirty trying to build a series of interesting and accessible venues in pockets where they are missing. It seems there is little will for this, though, because many of us did what most naturally do: sought a refuge from places where interest was sparse.
Should we abandon the battlements? I don't believe so. But I also believe they haven't been abadoned.
Before leaping heartily into a race to the frontiers, I would find it interesting to take a tour of (online or otherwise) little known and earnest theaters in places like Wichita, Kansas. Places we may not currently be aware of, but know are there. There were spots of theaters all over Pennsylvania where interesting work was produced, or where at least quality peformances of "The Death of a Salesman" could be counted on. I'd love to hear more about them, and see if what we suspect (that theater barely exists outside the cities) is reality.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.