After catching up myself this weekend on the Rachel Shteir article I linked to, I'd like to return to one brief point that particularly got my head nodding:
We(?) all inveigh against the catering of professional theatre to elite audiences. But when you think about it, aren't those mostly just financial elites? What's surprising--and much more unsettling to me, much more monumental change--is that the cultural elite, my ivy-league educated friends who read trendy novels and go to museums and even the opera, and who, by the way, certainly have the means... couldn't care less about theatre. That's huge as a seismic cultural shift. "Bungee jumping" actually would be fine! No, theatre has become a sideshow--not even in an intriguing "freak" sense, but only quaint--on the cultural map populated by the audience that once was its main patron. Once upon a time, not too long ago, a "cocktail party" conversation about "what have you read lately" would seamlessly segue into "and have you seen any good shows". Yes, they'll go to a blockbuster "prestige" show once or twice a year, usually for an anniversary, or else the tickets were foisted on them as gifts from their parents. (I saw a lot of these folks at the recent big B'way revivals of "Long Day's Journey" and "Gypsy" for instance. And sometimes even at BAM, somehow.) But will they check out the new Richard Foreman even when Ben Brantley says you "must see"?
[I]n the 1960s and 1970s, one theme the New York critics return to again and again is that "highbrows" are abandoning the theater. Today, no one really talks about this. The term highbrow is as unrecognizable as gams. It's not just that New York theater criticism and the theater itself no longer carry the status they did forty years ago. The other industries surrounding the arts--all equally important to New York's idea of itself as a center for culture--have shrunk also. No trade publisher is releasing books like the ones Brustein wrote in the 1960s and 1970s--with titles like Seasons of Discontent or The Theatre of Revolt....Any discontent or revolt taking place in the arts community is strictly peripheral. Recent books about the theater have titles like "Adventures in Theater," as though theater were akin to bungee jumping.
Ok, some of you may bid good riddence to snooty "boho's" with their "frappacino glasses," Jonathan Franzen under their arms, and Enya soaring out of their Ipods.... But if theatre doesn't have enough cultural cache for them, if even they can't get worked up about discovering the next great young playwright or checking someone's latest take on "Hedda Gabler", then what do we do?