I'm very grateful to the reader yesterday who posted a rejoinder to my plea for distinguishing theatre art from theatre biz. But I gladly take up the challenge of the main argument:
Part of what makes theatre (and any commercial art form) so vital is that it has to succeed commercially as well as artistically. How far out can the playwright or director go without losing too large of a chunk of his/her audience?... The delicate balance between commerce and art, in an ideal world, should create better work.
I print this not to praise it, but hardly to bury it, either. It's a commonly held view, that the stamp of popular appeal is necessary to ratify a piece of theatre's value. But do we really hold the same view of all other artforms? Would people feel just as comfortable saying this about novel like, say, Moby Dick, which took a long time to be recognized? I'm not sure I buy how theatre must be held to a different standard, namely that of commercialism, just because it plays before paying patrons. (Publishing seems to me a more commercially driven--and profitable!--industry than even Broadway.) Yes, theatre must engage its audience, but can't we find a language for talking about this "connection" that is different than that of a marketing department?
The audience is always a necessary participant. But let's ask ourselves what may sometimes "lose" an audience--dirty words, naked people, other offenses to contemporary morals and manners. Is the audience always "right" in these cases?
Also, before you "lose" an audience you gotta find one! The factors that go into who buys tickets to what and when go way beyond aesthetics alone. What plays people go to has a lot more to do with judgements they're making before not after seeing it.
Anyway, thanks for the provocation, mystery reader and I hope you'll come back for more. Others, feel free to join the fray on either side.