Sunday, November 06, 2005

I was reading a feature in American Theatre detailing the results of "TheaterFacts 2004", the TCG overview of not-for-profit statistics and all I could think of was Eric Bentley. What is Theatre? resides on my bookshelf and stares out at me as if I am supposed to answer the question. Ben Pesner more than once mentions the growing need for theatres to define their value to their communities.

I was reading this feature at my post in the box office of the Seattle Public Theatre. I also read the majority of the magazine. Unlike two weeks ago when I was manning the ticket sales for Wit, I had no patrons to attend to, ergo no paperwork to balance. During a break in the current season the Bathouse is being leased to The Exchange Theatre for a production of The Accrington Pals, a British play by Peter Whelan in its American premiere. I handed out six tickets. Two were comps. With four paying customers and forty times that many seats blatantly empty, the cast went on with the show and, futile or not, passionately. Do I admire them for this perseverance? Yes. Do actors playing to a barren house make a sound when they open their mouths? Only the actors know, and what's that worth financially or artistically?

This is one of the defining qualities of the theatre: that the breathing, seeing engagement of the audience is vital to the endurance of a show, present and future tense. All the rigor and commitment a cast can give falls short without those eyes and hearts to commune with. Sit in a movie theater, does it matter if the whole of the house is dead asleep? Not at all--they paid at the door and the film's already been cut. Once a piece of art is sold and hung it can survive for centuries without the attention of viewers. There is no dramatic event without the spectactor. Print that in your brochures, theatres. Tell that to your vacillating subscribers. You animate the play. You allow text to emerge from its dormancy. What a beautiful give and take: actors thrusting life into their work and the audience hefting it back onto the stage.

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