Anthony J. Piccione
- New York Columnist
It’s often one of the main excuses that people have over why they can’t make it to a show. Everyone always mentions how expensive it is, and rightly so. A ticket to the average Broadway show (and this isn’t even factoring in the ridiculous ticket prices for Hamilton) can often cost upwards of $100. Even shows that are produced off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway can often cost at least $20, which – while not nearly as expensive as Broadway –can still be a bit too much, for those who need to save money.
In all fairness, however, producing theatre isn’t free. Even before the show opens, it often costs a theatre company tons of money to be able to put on the show, in the first place. The only way for many of these groups to just break even is to ensure that they are raising enough money from ticket sales. That is unfortunate, considering that higher ticket prices might also be driving away people who might otherwise have gone to see the show, if it wasn’t so expensive. Thus, theaters may be losing potential ticket funds that they might have gotten from said potential theatergoers.
However, there is a potential solution to this. What if I told you that there was a way that we could have lower ticket prices, without theaters having to worry as much about the ability to stay afloat?
Now, even I will admit that this idea is highly unlikely to become a reality, in the near future. Some people outside of the theatre community may even call it an idea so ridiculous, it is silly to even be talking about it. Yet if, by some divine miracle, this were to become a reality, it could be a game changer, in terms of the amount of potential theatergoers from different classes of society that were to afford tickets.
I’m talking, of course, about increased government subsidies for theatre.
Keep in mind that what I’m proposing goes beyond what already exists, in terms of an agency such as the National Endowment for the Arts, even though for its an agency that should still exist, as well, and also receive more funding than it gets. I’m talking about subsidizing theatre companies nationwide, in a way that is not being done right now. I believe in taking an approach that might be considered to be radical, by some outside of the performing arts community, in terms of ensuring that the government financially supports the arts, so that artists can not only survive, but thrive. Clearly, they are not doing as well as they could be, right now.
It’s worth noting that the type of government subsidies that I refer to already exist in many other industries here in the United States. From energy and agriculture to health care and transportation, many subsidies are given out by the government each and every year. In cases such as those, the subsidies exist to keep industry costs down, and can help to make products more affordable for the consumer.
Sometimes, I wonder how great it might be, if government subsidies were given out to many more theatre organizations across America. I know this might sound like an overly optimistic proposal, in this political climate, but just imagine it.(After all, as any artist knows, imagination is where it all starts.)
Government subsidized theatre has already existed in countries such as the United Kingdom, where (dare I say it)theatre appears to be more respected as an art form, than here in the States. (Keep in mind that here I’m referring to the broader public, not just the arts community.) It is largely because of such strong government supporting the UK that throughout history, they’ve been able to put on so many great shows at great theaters, which otherwise might not have been possible.
If this happened here in the United States, would theatre become more popular and respected than it appears to be now, in comparison to film, music or television? Maybe it would, or maybe it wouldn’t. However, it’s clear that part of the way to make it possible is to ensure that great theatre companies have the financial support needed to keep putting on great shows, while also keeping them affordable for audiences.Making theatre more popular starts with making it more financially accessible, because as much as someone might say they love a show like Hamilton, how are they going to be able to ever see it without money for tickets?
Now, as those of you who may follow politics know, the idea of government subsidies itself can be quite controversial, even when it isn’t for the performing arts. To many people who don’t like the government giving out money to anything, basically, something like this is already going to get their heads shaking. Just look no further than the health care subsidies included in the Affordable Care Act, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Even for more politically moderate people, the unfortunate reality is that choosing to give out subsidies to an industry such as ours might not be high on their list of priorities.
It’s worth noting, though, that those industries that already do receive subsidies (i.e. energy, health insurance, etc.) often do so because they are seen as a major block of their supporters, in terms of winning elections.
So consider this: In nearly every major election, it’s hard to escape stories of how famous artists and entertainers – whether they are actors, directors, writers, musicians, etc. – raise money and campaign aggressively for politicians that they support. In the theatre community, among the most notable examples this year is how Lin-Manuel Miranda and the rest of the cast of Hamilton did a Broadway fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Can you imagine how such politicians were to react if such notable people were to stop campaigning and fundraising for them, unless they got certain laws that they wanted enacted? If we in the performing arts community were to lobby heavily for government subsidies for theatre, it really isn’t too hard to picture the odds of it becoming a reality going up. It would still be tough, but it would be much more likely to become law, once certain politicians were to realize that a core group of their constituents wanted it. (In other words, I hope Lin-Manuel Miranda – and the other artists that I refer to – might get to read this, and would especially take this into consideration.)
I’m not naïve. In the short term, I’m aware that this is unlikely to happen. With politicians finding difficulty talking seriously about many other important issues, I don’t assume that the struggles of the performing arts community will soon become an area of importance, to them. I hope they do start to show genuine support for the arts, at one point or another, because I feel that it may be essential.
For now, however, I hope that this is something that the rest of will start talking about, at the very least, and that this is something that those of us in the performing arts community will push for and keep calling for, in the hopes that it will come closer to a reality, at some point or another. If it ever does, than I believe the future of theatre will ultimately be much brighter, both for artists and audience members.
Or am I once again being too optimistic…?
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist based in New York City.
To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to follow him on Facebook(www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage) and on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione).