Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is Theater Inherently Elitist?

Question: Is Theater Inherently Elitist?


Theater is labor, resource, and real estate intensive.

Theater must therefore be expensive to recoup its costs.

Or theater must rely on the patronage of an elite who can support it.

Theater cannot be mass produced, so it must appeal to specific, local audiences.

Theater is inflexible in format -- you must show up at the appointed time, and view it for the appointed length of time.

Mass produced media is less expensive to create, less expensive to consume, easier to distribute, and easier to consume.

I notice that most of the blogs answering this elitism question seem to be caught up in the content of the plays. Probably because they're written by writers, who are concerned with the writing.

I'm a producer, so I'm interested in how plays are produced, so the answer to that question seems pretty obvious to me.


Trevor O'Donnell said...

I think there's a hole in the bubble - just caught a whiff of fresh air.

Bradley McDevitt said...

But is that elitism morally corrupt by virtue of it's existence? Should we just watch movies? Really, movies, and TV take up more resources than a single production. Hell most movies cost more than several years' worth of a modest regional theater's budget. So...elitist? Possibly. There are certainly alternatives: Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed, the theater of the rebels in Chiapas, lots of street work...

more dialogue, please!

Guy Yedwab said...

I don't necessarily believe that elitism is inherently morally corrupt (certainly, I'm a theater producer, and am invested in live production).

I do think that live performance itself is elitist/not elitist, nor do I think that film as a medium is elitist/not elitist.

But Theater, as it is practiced/produced in the United States today, is structured as an elitist practice for the reasons I outlined in the original post.

I agree that Hollywood and "mainstream studio film" is in some ways also an elitist practice -- it's also incredibly resource intensive, also requires the patronage of the elite studios/exec producers to get it off the ground, meaning that a very select chosen few get access to produce work in it...

... at the other end of the spectrum, however, is an increasingly democratized film culture represented by YouTube and Vine where cameras are incredibly pervasive, and with very few resources anyone can get their message out to a broad audience.

If Theater of the Oppressed modes or theater of the Chiapas were more broadly available here, we probably wouldn't be talking about theater's elitism.