For Want of a Sondheim Sweatshirt: On the Theatre Community and Etsy

Caleigh Derreberry

All I want out of life is a sweatshirt that says, “Color & Light” on it. Or one that has any other reference to Sunday in the Park with George, Sondheim’s 1984 masterpiece and my most favorite of things, on it. With the rise of Etsy, a website that connects crafters with people who want to buy their products, I figured finding a Sondheim sweatshirt wouldn’t be a problem.

Sure, it’s the type of thing you can’t find in a regular store, but Etsy is a community of fans selling things they made to commemorate their favorite fandoms to other fans. It specializes in things you can’t find in a regular store. My assumption was that the theatre community—a community filled with people who frequently hand-make things—would have a large presence on such a site.

I was wrong. A surprisingly small amount of theatre products are available for purchase on Etsy. Sure, you can find people selling old merchandise, but there isn’t a wide variety of handmade stuff. I couldn’t find a single Sondheim sweatshirt.  For a community that has to craft costumes and sets, theatre fans are not well represented on a crafting website.

Originally, I figured this was due to copyright issues. But after spending more time on Etsy, l realized that doesn’t seem to be the problem. The site thrives on selling products commemorating copyrighted material. I bought a Back to the Future t-shirt Warner Brothers definitely doesn’t approve of. Whether or not it’s because copyright doesn’t apply to situations like this or because the powers that be don’t care enough to stop people from selling stuff on Etsy, the law clearly isn’t what’s getting in the way of me obtaining a Sondheim sweatshirt.

What’s strange is that theatre is the only storytelling medium that doesn’t have a strong Etsy following. If I wanted a Terminator tee or a Supernatural sweatshirt, I’d have no problem getting my hands on either. Avid television fans have created all sorts of different merchandise to celebrate their favorite primetime shows. Movie zealots have customized everything from stickers to fashion to high-end replicas. Even book series and video games have a noticeable presence. Every other art form has used Etsy as a way to celebrate their favorite stories. 

But then again, the theatre fandom doesn’t need to create things to celebrate our art form. We’re too busy creating the art form itself. Unlike in other mediums, there isn’t a distinction between the people creating the art and the people consuming it. Yes, there are people who go to the theatre who are not, nor have ever been, connected to the theatre world—and those people should be treasured—but a large portion of the people who love theatre are theatre people. It’s precisely because the theatre community is filled with people who spend a lot of time crafting their art that I can’t find a Sondheim sweatshirt. Theatre fans are spending their energy creating their art rather then creating something to celebrate it.

Which means that, while there might be a lot of great theatre happening around the world, I’m going to have to make a Sunday in the Park with George sweatshirt myself.