5 things theatre must do as we move on to a new stage
“Curtain up. Light the lights. We’ve got nothing to hit but the heights. Starting here, starting now. Honey everything’s coming up roses?” Yeah…. not so much.
Theatre is back but like many industries, we have tons of things we need to grapple with, fix and change. It will not happen overnight and can feel overwhelming. We need to lead with actions instead of just words. Here’s five things the theatre industry needs to do right now to get back to doing what we love for a long time to come.
1) We must support new work and new talent through ticket sales.- If you look at the boards, there is an unprecedented number of new plays by POC and female writers than ever before. There was even a second on Broadway where every show running was written and directed by a woman, (Pass Over, Hadestown and Waitress, if you’re wondering). New work has also been programmed into regional theatres across the country. Now go see it. Buy a ticket and try something new. I’d love to say theatre is all about the “art” but the truth is, money talks. You can’t say something isn’t commercial if it starts bringing in cash. If you are industry, don’t wait for a comp, BUY a ticket. It’s the single most revolutionary thing you can do to support live theatre again.
2) We have to sell safety.- You may be comfortable heading back into the theatre, but your neighbor is not. Sure, I would risk my life to see Patti LuPone in “Company”, or at least follow every reasonable ask of me to do so safely. But most of the people I speak to on the “outside” of the business, need more assurance. Many people need more time to make sure the people they see go to theatre and concerts aren’t getting sick. And the three questions I get asked the most.
“Doesn’t it suck to wear a mask for two and a half hours”? — No
“Checking vaccination cards and ID must take forever”- It’s easy and reassuring.
“Are you taking your kid back to the theatre?”- Not yet. But when he’s vaccinated (he’s eight), he has a list of things he wants to see.
3) We need to stop talking about inequity and fix it. — We are an industry that is very white and very male at the top. This is Broadway, not brain surgery. We can fix this. I am excited to not only see a whole new way of hiring happening, but mentorship programs coming into place. We are not just hiring diversely, we need to continue mentoring the next generation of artists, producers, marketers, and mavens. If you aren’t hiring, help someone land a job. Write a recommendation or make an introduction. Seek out talented theater makers outside of New York or someone from a different industry who can make us see our work in a new way.
4) We need to treat our employees fairly.- We cannot accomplish #3 if we cannot follow this rule. If you offer someone a job, think carefully about the salary, the employee’s time, and their talent. I could not afford to work an unpaid internship, few can. Employees fall in love, they have babies, they have parents and children and pets who become ill. The show will go on if we all work as a team and support one another. We bring imagined work to life, but let’s not forget the reality that awaits us off stage. If we learned nothing over the pandemic we learned, “Everyone is human”. Can we hold onto that as we enter back into the ring?
5) More mentoring, less mess.- Be the boss you’d want to have. Working your way up isn’t always fun. When I was starting out in this business, I was told to sit at the far end of the table and take notes. And I did, and as I took those notes, I watched the players in the room, saw endless presentations of creative and media plans, I had an amazing boss who sat me down every day and said, “What questions do you have?”. He took me to tons of shows, had me read countless plays and whenever I made a mistake or had a misstep, instead of screaming at me, he’d simply ask, “What did you learn and how can we fix it?”. I am a positive force because I was mentored to be one. I did the grunt work. I made the coffee and the copies, I wrote the conference reports that had to be written, I typed out many an agenda, but I was treated with respect while I was doing it. (Brief pause of praise for Thomas Mygatt, the boss i talk about here.) As I became a boss and mentor, my one requirement for employment has always been, “you have to love theatre” and if you do, I will teach you as much as I can about it.
Starting here, starting now, let’s clean up act two before we go on.