I wonder what would happen to a Broadway show if its budget was capped? Would we lose the concept of the spectacle as we know it? It was actually John McCain who gave me the idea when he proposed to ease our national debt by freezing all government spending. Although this probably would not be beneficial on a national level I think the same idea applied to Broadway productions would heed a positive result. The gears do not stop turning when you tell a true artist “No.” Instead they turn harder and faster. Artists may not like limitations, but we like challenges. Creating theatre is about overcoming challenges and solving problems; it shouldn’t necessarily be easy. If we pulled a McCain on Broadway, we may not be able to go with our first instincts. We would be forced to think creatively and our productions might turn out to be even better. Although perhaps, when you consider the projected $40 million that Julie Taymor requested for Spiderman the Musical in contrast to a continuously plunging governmental support for the arts, Barack Obama’s concept of “spreading the wealth” might be an even better idea.
Now is not the time to increase Broadway’s budgets. Broadway has been stuck in a sort of artistic lull for awhile now, but more money is not the answer. Bigger budgets are leading to more expensive tickets, and the coveted student rush seems to be slowly fading away. Patrons are paying almost $200 a ticket to sit in a plush seat while our economy steadily crumbles down around us. These are prices that most students and artists definitely cannot afford to pay. The most expensive ticket to a performance that I’ve ever purchased was $85 to see the Rolling Stones because I wasn’t sure they’d all live to tour again.* It was truly a matter of life and death. There are a handful of productions currently on Broadway that interest me, but I just can’t bring myself to pay those prices. What we’re in need of now is theatre that will engage and enlighten us without leaving us completely broke. Smaller budgets and lower ticket prices will fill the houses and diversify the spectators. They will eliminate the idea of elitist theatre that makes bohemian shows like RENT and In the Heights so ironic.
You must be thinking that I’m crazy. Theatre is finally being massively funded, so I should just shut up, right? All of us complain about having insufficient budgets, anyway. I know I do. Well, this is a gutsy statement for a designer to make, but I think we should start rethinking the way we physically create theatre. It is incredibly difficult to be both a theatre artist and an environmentalist. The conventional way of producing theatre is not only expensive, but quite wasteful. I shudder to imagine of the greenest of green theatre, a literal interpretation of Brook’s concept of the empty space, but maybe it’s time to start thinking of ways to reduce the theatre’s carbon footprint. Blogger Mike Lawler has some simple suggestions on how to get the green theatre revolution started.
For all artists out there who are skeptical, I am confident that we can still create beauty on a budget. The spectacle may no longer be found in elaborate scene changes, trap doors, and flying actors, but something a little subtler…like leaving the theatre and realizing that I still have enough money for dinner. If I learned anything from Mick Jagger, it's that you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you nee-eed. Yeah.
*They’ve toured three more times since I saw them. None of them died, but Keith Richards did fall out of a palm tree.