Introduction to Theatre - Chapter 005

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Theatre and Performance Studies

THE PLAYGOERS: THE AUDIENCE AND THE CRITIC 9 October 2013 Theatre Today Each location and form of theatre attract certain kinds of audiences. A successful theatre organization is one that realizes this and does its best to provide theatre events that are appropriate and satisfying to its audience. Hollywood assumes a movie is national, not regional. Everyproductioniseitheranewworkorarevival.Newworkisthefirsttimeanoriginalscriptispremiered. Revival iswhen the play isgiven adifferent productionat alaterdate, bringing back to life something that was sickly or dead (IE: Macbeth, Our Town). A theatre organization and its productions are either for profit (IE: Broadway, touring companies) or nonprofit. Broadway rarely break even. Most theatre in America is nonprofit. They continue to operate only because they are funded by some organization, or they engage in fund-raising to pay all the bills. All theatres and their production can be divided into professional and amateur standings. Professional means all personnel, from actors to the box office staff, are paid, regardless if the participants belong to one of the theatre unions or not. Amateur is someone who does something out of love for it, when participants are not paid (it has nothing to do with quality). Where Theatre Happens Broadway is a street, a district, a form of theatre, a union classification, and a state of mind. Street runs thelengthofManhattan.ThetheatredistrictiscenterednearTimesSquare,withplayhousesonthestreet itself. As a form of theatre, Broadway is highly polished, highly publicized professional for-profit theatre that once meant the finest to be found in America. Various theatre unions classify these playhouses as “Broadway houses,” and everyone working in them have a “Broadway contract.” Broadway means glamour and fame to many theatregoers. It is a form of theatre that suggests opulent musicals; glittering stars; and renowned playwrights, directors, and designers. Broadway houses tend to be large (600-2000 seats) and old, but must of them are superior playhouses with excellent acoustics and elegant décor. The prices areexpensive. The audience of Broadway productions are mostly tourists.Theatergoing used to be a regular habit but theatre ticket prices rose. The Road is wheremost Broadway hits go,on tour, particularlymusical successes. These professional, for profit productions are replicas of the originals on Broadway, though the scenery might be simplified for touring and the cast may not have the same or similarly notable stars. National or First Class Company is the first tour to go out, high quality and accurately brings the Broadway experience to places far from Time Square. National tours play only in major cities and in houses that are considerably larger than Broadway playhouse where the show originated. Tickets tend to be high. Second Class Tours go to moderate-sized cities. Third Class Tours is a bus and truck tour, it plays in college towns or small cities with a suitable theatre. Regardless of the level, touring companies are for-profit and if business “on the road” is poor, the tour will be cancelled or cut short. OffBroadwaywasborninthelate1940swheretheatreartistsandaudiencesfeltBroadwaywasnolonger the place for new and experimental work. “Little Theatre Movement” introduced important American playwrights, ambitious theatre groups performed demanding plays in small houses. Off Broadway has no specific location like the Broadway theatre district does, though many of the playhouses are located in the Greenwich Village area in lower Manhattan. These theatres are smaller in size (150-450 seats), less elegant, and muchmore intimate than Broadway houses. Tickets to Off-Broadway productions are priced lowerthanBroadwayones.ActorsandotherartistworkinginanOff-Broadwayhousesignunioncontracts that pay less than Broadway, and production expenses are lower as well. The audience is more varied, there are fewer tourists and more local residents. Off Off Broadway was formed in the 1970s as many felt that Off Broadway had gotten too popular and it was turning into a small size version of Broadway with little experimentation and too few daring productions, so a group of small and very ambitious theatres sprung up around the city and dubbed Off Off Broadway. Many of these theatre companies do not operate out of a formal theatre; they perform in converted storefronts or restaurants, church basements and community centers. They are even smaller than Off Broadway (50-250 seats). Ticket prices are considerably lower, personnel earns little or nothing fortheirservices.Severalcompaniesareprofessional,butmostsignspecial,lowpayingcontractswiththe theatre unions in order to keep expenses down. Productions can afford to be risky, disturbing, and even offensive. It is used to test new scripts with the hope that they will move onto other venues. Showcases or Workshops are low cost productions and are valuable testing grounds for undiscovered actors, playwrights, directors, and designers. The audience is diverse. Spectators of all ethnic, social, and economic types can be found here, few tourists. Regional or Resident Theatre started at about the same time Off Broadway. First two notable regional theaters were the Alley Theatre in Houston and the Arena Stage in Washington. The League of Resident Theatres (LORT) linked over forty theatre by the 1960s. The goal of the LORT is to provide professional stimulating productions in a local theatre for a local audience. The actors, directors, and designers are often from New York so the quality is often as high as that of Off Broadway or even Broadway. Resident Companies are when theatres hire their actors for the whole season, allowing audiences to see the same performers in a variety of roles; they have abandoned this policy because of expense of payroll for 7 months. Typical LORT season consists of 5 productions. Regional theatres are ideal testing grounds for new playas because the expense is much less than in New York. Audience can buy a subscription to all 5 playsintheregionaltheatre’sseason.Everyregionalcompanyhastostruggletostayinoperationbecause money is always short and the cost of maintaining quality productions keeps increasing. The audience is morevariedthantheBroadway audience.Theyarejustlyfamousanddrawtourists,butmajorityarelocal citizens. LORT offers discounts for students, senior citizens, special interest groups, so they are more accessible than for-profit theatres. They have outreach programs that bring live theatre to schools, snior centers, and prisons. Summer Theatre was once called summer stock, they operate in the warm months of the year. They provide professional and amateur theatre entertainment to playgoers who seldom see other kinds of theatre. The idea was born in the 1900s when great numbers of city dwellers took refuge in rural resorts or vacation communities in order to avoid the heat and crowds of urban life. They performed in tents or outdoors,thecompaniesweresemiprofessional(IE:Mixingstarperformerswithstudentapprenticeswho worked for experience). Theatre Festivals operate in the summer, they are less common buy popular with audiences looking for classic revivals and more demanding theatergoing than what summer stock might offer. Most prevalent kind of festival theatre is devoted to the works of Shakespeare. It presents some of the highest quality theatergoing in North America, and many rank them with Broadway for professionalism and creativity. Dinner Theatre is a for-profit organization that offered dinner and play in the same location. Because many large American cities at the time were deemed unsafe and uninviting at night, suburban dwellers abandoned the downtown theatres and drove further out of town to structures where free parking, a buffet dinner, and lighthearted entertainment awaited. Community Theatre were amateur productions that used local community members to act, build, and run the show. The director and some other administrative positions were sometimes paid, but mostly it was a volunteer operation, allowing community to see its fellow residents onstage. These non-profit companies usually present revivals. Educational Theatre is presented in schools. It is non-profit and amateur, it has few of the financial constraints of professional for-profit theatres, and one is often able to risk new works, classical revivals, and experimental projects, in addition to the usual repertory of musical and play favorites. Alternative Theatre Experimental Theatre is sometimes called Avant-Garde, the French expression meaning to be ahead of one’s time. The audience might be composed of artists, intellectuals, and other very specific groups, and the theatre event is developed especially for them. Street and Guerrilla Theatre is a presentation by a troupe of players who perform on a portable stage outdoors in a particul
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