Curtain Call: Will Recession Spell Doom for Live Theater?

The effects of the recession have hit closer to DFW stages

By Greg Janda
|  Sunday, Jul 12, 2009  |  Updated 11:08 AM CDT
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Will Recession Kill Live Theater?

AP

Even the rich tradition of live theater could be broken by a bad recession. (AP Photo/Alexander Natruskin, Pool)

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Monday, we told you about 13 Broadway shows that were having their final curtain call, including popular hits like "Monty Python's Spamalot" and "Hairspray." While those shows are going dark on the Great White Way, the recession is now hitting closer to home.

The Dallas Morning News' ArtsBlog mentions that the WaterTower theater is cutting performances from four to three weeks and substituting their final two shows with ones that have smaller casts -- both methods to cut costs while the recession cuts their audiences.

Those audiences are key to live theater productions, not only to the business model of..uh...selling tickets...but also to the actual performance. Neither of these cost-saving moves can bring in the audiences by themselves.

It's long been the tradition of newspapers to cover the theater scene, bringing their critics to preview events or the opening night performances to give readers the usual "see it, don't see it" noise, but also to promote and encourage theater attendance.

Now, those jobs are some of the first cut in the shredding of newspaper positions. With those advocates for live theater gone from the public eye, audiences may drop.

It's still the economy that's doing the most damage to audience numbers, but the effects go further as troupes are likely having a harder time finding the patrons that used to line their curtains with cash.

Further still, the cost of theater productions themselves continues to climb as Broadway's dissemination out to the rest of the nation (through touring companies, tourists, and general "keeping up with the Joneses") makes community theater look less glitzy in the untrained audience perception.

It's the kind of story you hear every few years -- "theater is dying, theater is dying" -- before defenders will cry "the show must go on." The only difference is that professional theater may not be ready to weather this perfect storm of audience decline, rising costs, and other entertainment options.

As friends of theater, we hope the lights stay on, but we can't say we'll be surprised if (or when) some local stages have to make their final curtain call.

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