Radical Idea: Every Show Should Have House Lights On

Hailey Bachrach

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I’m tired of sitting in the dark. 

Today’s theater community faces big questions about our relationship to the general public—how to attract (and hold onto) new audiences, how to handle the omnipresence of cell phones, how to make people feel more welcome, etc. In short, how can artists best connect with their audiences? I don’t claim to have a silver bullet answer, but I find myself returning to a single, simple idea that could have a significant impact. 

Light the people in the seats. 

Don’t get me wrong; I love the thrill of the moment when the house lights dim and then darken before the start of a show—the sudden quiet and sense of anticipation before we plunge into the world of a play. And I appreciate the effect of a well-placed blackout mid-performance, when that world winks out of existence. Darkness can be a powerful artistic tool.

But there are downsides, too. Lots of them. A dark house and a bright stage create a fundamental separation between actors and audience. If you’ve ever stood onstage and tried to peer past the blinding lights to the faces beyond, then you know—it’s hard to see, much less genuinely connect with, anyone out there. 

And as artistically satisfying as that initial darkness and silence can be, it’s also intimidating. I’ve been a theatergoer all my life, and even now something about the lights going down makes me instantly need to fidget, riffle through my program, and fret about how long the bathroom line will be at intermission. It is not relaxing. 

So—why not turn on the lights? 

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