I can’t even quantify the amount of great artistic experiences that I have missed because I have a child that can’t stay by himself while we go to the show, art opening, what have you. It’s not only the financial hurdle, which is an evening that used to cost $50 now costs over $200 when you add in the fact that you have to take advantage of your freedom and go out to a nice dinner before or afterwards. It’s the logistical hurdle as well. You have to find the babysitter, you have to pick a night where you know you’re not working late so you can spend a little time with the kid(s) before giving the reigns to another caretaker, and then you have to pick the event that is closest, cheapest, best, and fits the mood you’re most likely to be in when the evening rolls around. Gone are the days when at 5:30pm, you catch a promo for an event on your ride home that piques your interest, call your significant other, and ride the wave all the way to the ticket booth that night.
It’s a frustrating reality, but one that is perhaps overlooked by arts administrators when they consider the reasons that they’re audience base is getting older and older every year. Could it be possible that people are waiting longer to have children so the 40-somethings that used to have teenagers that were dying to have their parents head out for the night are now forced to remain home to deal with their 5-7 year olds? I’m 35 with a 3 year old, and I’ve seen a grand total of 4 plays this year, and that includes an R & J in the park where the boy came along and we had to leave at intermission amid the fear that the lark and the nightingale would cease to be the subject of the two lovers’ morning argument, but rather which of them would leave the stage and slap the kid in the back row.
I know some larger institutions have incorporated some childcare into their expanding payrolls, but that’s not feasible for most modest arts budgets. And besides, my kid needs to be in bed at 9pm, not out playing improv games with an acting intern.
Arts organizations might just need to write the 25-45 year olds off as “unavailable,” and go about building audiences older and younger. Look, the die-hard fans will find a way to get there (at least 3 times a year), but the rest just don’t have the time, money, and energy to be fully engaged in the arts scene. And of course, thankfully for me and theatre profit and loss statements, there is Theatre for Young Audiences.
The over-45 crowd is well covered, but how do we get the young adults into the arts? Keep in mind that statistically speaking, they are single, underemployed or in school, and have almost no money available to be spent on anything except remedying the first two. What we know about these folks is that they like to participate. Social media and video games have dominated their existence in recent memory, so the idea of passively taking in art and entertainment is going to feel a bit foreign to them. (Unless of course they are already inclined, in which case we don’t really need to change anything because they are coming already.)
Scott Walters has recently posited that we need some kind of new, “organic theatre,” though he admittedly hasn’t put his finger on what that is. Perhaps the organism he is dancing around is one that incorporates the kind of active participation that social media and gaming provides. For the longest time, I thought the theatre version of this was improv, but I fear that window might have opened and closed without much of a revolutionary shift occurring. Great improv is out there, but it’s not capturing the hearts and minds of our young adults en masse like I thought it might.
What I have in my mind’s eye is a group of artists from varying disciplines creating an arts experience where the audience can participate quasi-anonymously (we all can’t love to volunteer), and yet materially affecting the experience for everyone involved. Maybe this is a rolling twitter feed above the stage to which the actors must respond or adapt, or a theatrical experience in which the audience isn’t quite clear who is performing and who is watching. Perhaps this is a work of mixed-media art that changes based on the movement or actions of the people in the room.
It is clear that we need innovation in the arts world to capture new blood and keep up with a society that is advancing at rate far greater than that of its arts institutions.
At least my career affords me the opportunity to help advance the cause. Otherwise I might be jaded about the fact that 75% of my discretionary time and money is spent entertaining (or corralling) a 3 year old.
PS: To Luke, (my son), if you are reading this, congratulations on being able to read. Please don’t feel like you are sucking the artistic life out of me. You are in fact a constant inspiration, and much of the above is strictly rhetorical.