Theatre is at an epic crossroads which could defy its future. At this moment in time, theatre could be as popular as it has ever been, but the old guard are being challenged to an influx of new theatre goers enjoying the stage. Now, traditional theatres are struggling to balance the expectations of there regular customers by the new generation throwing theatre etiquette out the window.
The reason why this crossroads in theatre is so important is because the future of theatre is on the line.
New theatre vs Old theatre
Have you noticed just how many shows are hitting our stages both in the West End and regionally. Strictly Ballroom, Flashdance, Aladdin, The Band, Matilda and Fat Friends are just a few recent additions to the theatre calendar. As we see these productions and compare them against the musical elite such as Sound of Music and Evita, we see the production value slowly fading away. So why are we having an influx of new theatre?
Since Lion King came on the scene, we have seen a revolution in theatre, mainly due to the first-time theatre segment growing significantly. The Lion King managed to achieve a new entry level production which was accessible to a wider audience with high production value.
This has grown even more by the popularity of movie adaptations of classic theatre productions which has also made theatre accessible.
When you see a new production, you see singing and dancing encouraged more which goes against traditional theatre way.
When you read reviews of theatres in the UK, you will come across disgruntled patrons annoyed at people singing and dancing during a production. It is not the theatre etiquette. In fact, go to any theatre and witness a divide of people dressed up for the occasion and people dressed casually, more suited for the cinema.
If theatre is to survive, new audiences should be welcomed but does the theatre risk upsetting their loyal customers or try to develop a new audience.
What does new theatre look like?
The 80’s and 90’s seem to be the main influences of new theatre with shows like Sister Act, Dirty Dancing, Bat out of Hell, The Band and Strictly Ballroom which will indicate that the millennial audience is where producers believe the money will be with.
Re-creating popular movies seems to be an easy formula to creating a new musical and there is wide appeal. Entry level theatre help build the audience to prepare for more epic stories told on stage such as Miss Saigon or Phantom of the Opera.
New theatre also comes with a newer way of marketing and building a brand for a show. In recent time, none can be as unforgettable than the “Grab it before you miss it” style of Book of Mormon, written by South Park Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. We now have Hamilton built around the charismatic Lin-Manuel Miranda which has become a brand within itself. Then, slowly creeping on us from regional UK venues, we have The Band, a marketing campaign built around nostalgia.
Is traditional musicals dead?
The classics are still alive and can still last the test of time if there are audiences for them. Ut us hard to see how relevant Evita will resonate with a modern audience, but it Is a fantastic story told in a beautiful way. As a show for a first timer, will it be appreciated as much as someone who is a more established theatre goer? I do not believe so. Entry level theatre can stand next to classic theatre and work in partnership creating a legacy which continues far into the future.
What we need is for production companies to stop buying up the rights to classic theatre and stripping them to their bare bones to create a cheaper production for the sole purpose to make people as much money as possible. Regional theatre is rife with this.
We need traditional audiences to welcome the new, with new audiences respecting the ways of the theatre. For a show like Mamma Mia, let the strangers sitting behind you sing to their favourite song without judgement but as for the people who still believe it is acceptable to check your phone during a show, turn it off and out it away, it is not welcome at the theatre.
The theatre has some solid foundations and it is time we re-build fir the future making a more accessible and exciting experience for all.