I am, as has been stated in the past, a true believer in the importance of the arts. Artistic expression, in all of its myriad forms, is a foundational part of culture and, by extension, civilization. As a supporter of the arts, I am an active member of my local community theater. No, I have not “tread the boards” as the expression goes, but I have prowled the offstage areas doing everything from selling tickets to directing shows. One thing that anyone involved in live theater will tell you is the difficulty you often have staging productions. That is not to say our theater is not selling tickets. In fact, this summer I co-directed a major musical with my lovely wife and directed a piece in an evening of one acts, both to very brisk ticket sales.
Ticket sales aren’t the biggest problem for you average non-profit community theater. Usually you can depend on friends and family of cast and crew to help generate word of mouth to sell a show. The real problem these days often lies in staffing a show. Most theatergoers have no idea how many people are involved in the productions they attend. Casting can be hard enough with dwindling audition numbers in many cases, but filling out a crew can be very near impossible. Much of this is due to many skilled contributors (choreographers, vocal directors, lighting and sound designers, etc.) becoming increasingly unable or unwilling to volunteer their services, but the problem goes deeper than that.
The truth of the matter is that it is becoming more and more difficult for arts organizations to remain relevant in an era of Netflix and Pokemon GO. Technology has made it easy for anyone to stream the latest season of their favorite show or play a new and addictive game right in the palm of their hand. Screen time has become the most prevalent part of our day and we simply don’t have the time or motivation to do something that tears us away from the screen.
I understand the draw of it. I have been known to be pulled into the vortex myself. But, I think it is sad how often I see couples sitting in restaurants glues to their phones instead of talking to one another. Or kids more absorbed with Minecraft than Legos. As time progresses we, as a society are experiencing more and more of the world through the electronic viewfinder of our smartphone screens and we are, as a culture, suffering.
I know it is not realistic to ask everyone to give up their smartphones. I know that I would be one of the first to tell you where to go if you suggested that to me. But, if we could all make an effort to experience the world with our own senses, unfiltered by the Retina display and stereo speakers, we might rediscover what makes everything so rich around us. Museums, theaters, concert halls, and the like are out there beckoning you in. Trust me when I say the experience is much more breathtaking with the phone is your pocket.