Posts Tagged ‘Riverdance’

Audience development is important not only because it’s vital to the survival of theatre, but also because it completely effects the theatre-going experience.

Last Friday, I went to see Much Ado About Nothing by the RSC  in their shiny new theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I expected, rather naively on reflection, that the audience would reflect the very modern design. Sadly not. It was like waking up in the 50s next to the Jonses and their new Teasmade.  I have absolutely no problem with people of any age or background going to the theatre; what I have a problem with is people who feel they should go to the theatre because that’s what middle class people do. Why bother? Surely just stay at home and watch Coronation Street if that’s what you’d prefer? People need to have a REAL reason to want to go to the theatre– not just because they feel they should.  I’ve noted before the over-funding that this causes in the world of opera and other socially-enhancing-art-forms, and the RSC and National Theatre aren’t exempt from this. Their cuts in the Arts Council RFO portfolio were minimal, and Artistic Director Michael Boyd said that they’d cope… not the reaction of hundreds of other organisations crippled by the cuts.

But, I’m going over old ground… the real point is that the RSC should not be complacent about audience development, and should always seek to find ways of attracting new and future audiences into the theatre, while not forgetting those who have always been loyal. To do this theatre practitioners need to take a step back and look seriously at what they’re competing against, both in terms of successful commercial theatre and other entertainment sources: cinema, TV, games etc.  Admittedly the RSC has taken the brave step of once more delving into the world of musical theatre– presenting Matilda in London– and I suspect that this was largely a well crafted way of generating income, one that should be applauded nonetheless. But, producing musicals will not alone solve the problem of attracting future theatre audiences; I’m referring to the hard to reach audiences, people who have never been into a theatre, people who have always thought that theatre ‘wasn’t for them’. Intelligent producing and clever marketing can help attract these people. Practitioners should look at what makes West End shows appeal: theatre technology, visual effects and the universal language of music. Riverdance, to a cerain extent, achieved this in the 1990s– it put together a series of elements that were perfect for the love of neoliberalism and Postmodernism that we saw in the 90s. Which brings me to my final and most important point: Reinvention (with a capital R). I don’t believe that theatre should be created in the style of a long dead playwright. Each generation should endeavour to reinvent their theatre environment in a continual cycle of progression and modernisation; just as technology and time never stand still neither should theatre.