The problem with theatre audiences today

The average university student, especially those who are studying English literature, will most likely have read more plays than they will have seen performed.

It’s definitely not for lack of shows; Montreal has over 70 English theatre companies and hosts the Fringe Festival, a month long festival featuring over 500 shows. University students simply aren’t interested. Out of 50 students surveyed by The Concordian, only 13 acknowledged that they like to go to plays.

The general response as to why these students didn’t see plays was that television was easier to access and they didn’t have the time or any particular interest in seeing a theatre production. Some students said they attended Broadway musical-type shows such as Wicked and The Lion King, but hadn’t gone to see any Montreal-produced shows of the non-musical variety.

Despite school, work and social obligations, many students still find the time and money to see movies in the theatre. On average, the price of a student ticket to see a theatre production is not much more than the price of a movie ticket, but students are more likely to attend a movie rather than a show.

Quincy Armorer, the artistic director of Black Theatre Workshop believes it’s because students have an idea that theatre is vastly different from seeing a film. And it is different. Theatre is live, the actors are mere meters away from you and anything can happen; if an actor flubs a line or loses a prop there’s no ‘re-shoot.’ Some would say this makes it all the more exciting and impressive.

In terms of genres, theatres offer similar selections as movie theatres. Montreal offers a range of productions in the genres of drama, comedy, romance, tragedy, mystery and adventure. On the other hand, theatre productions rarely have special effects, high speed car chases or dramatic gun battles; things that only the medium of film can pull off. However, a film can still be enjoyable without these elements and therefore, logically, so can theatre.

Joseph Shragge the Co-Artistic Director of Scapegoat Carnivale, feels that one reason that students don’t attend shows is because of “a lack of outreach on the part of the company.”

“I’ve felt that the more effort we put into letting students know about our plays, the more attendance we’ve gotten,” he said. Companies often find it difficult to get information out to students. Armorer notes that his company relies heavily on student media. His company has tried to get permission to post promotional material in schools but the bureaucracy involved often makes this difficult.

Would more students attend theatre productions if they were inducted with the same media campaigning that films use? After all, promotional film material is everywhere; television, online, on public transportation, in restaurants, even in our washrooms. Theatre companies, on the other hand, don’t have a large enough marketing budget to blitz students the way films do. What can be done then?

Theatre companies have to be more creative and thrifty by doing things such as school tours, social networking and using student press. But perhaps it would be useful for Montreal theatre companies to band together and try campaigning to dispel the myth that theatre is boring or not worth a student’s time. After all, students are the new blood, without them theatres will have no fuel once older generations pass on. Instead of 70 different theatre companies spread all across Montreal, maybe resources should be combined to offer students easier access and to cultivate their interest in the productions on offer.


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