Four Reasons To Make Your Community Theater the New Hot Spot

Remember Blockbuster movies? I’m not talking about the rapidly-flourishing-then-rapidly-obsolete movie rental chain (although, I think we all do miss it fondly). I’m talking about the arrival of summer, which brings with it, the arrival of summer blockbusters at the movies.

The term blockbuster in today’s usage, refers to a high-budget film production aimed at mass markets, with associated merchandising, upon which the financial fortunes of a film studio or a distributor depend. It is defined by its production budget and marketing effort rather than the film’s success or popularity, and is essentially a tag that a film’s marketing gives itself.

Fun fact: the word blockbuster first appeared in the press during the 1940’s, referring to aerial bombs capable of destroying a whole block of streets. But that’s kind of depressing, so let’s just forget all about that…

During the early days of television and movies, summertime was generally re-run season. And it stands to reason, because in these bygone days, most young, healthy people were more likely to be outside doing things than sitting in dark rooms staring at a giant screen. That is, until one Summer in 1975. A little film called Jaws made history by achieving the highest-grossing opening weekend ever: $7 million, which doesn’t seem like much today, but back then, record breaking stuff. And its popularity didn’t stop there. By its 5th weekend in theaters, it was still making over 6 million each week. Jaws changed the movie game by showing studios just how profitable summer movies could be.

Today, even though big-budget productions can be seen year-round, summer is still deemed as blockbuster season. You’ve got your Star Wars, your Independence Day, your comic book super hero movies, Jurassic Park… summertime at the cinema does not cease to please.

Now, just go with me on this. With the surge of streaming television and movies, we have virtually limitless quantities and varieties of entertainment at our fingertips, enjoyed from the comfort of home; no re-runs, no commercials (mostly), and no having to wait until next week to find out what happens next. And let’s just be real here, I hear there are ways (not at all legal and I am in no way endorsing this) to access streams of movies that are still in theaters. Not saying I do this…but let’s just say people do it. So with all this technology, where is the thrill of the Summer blockbuster if I can just stream it (and everything else under the sun) from home?

Here is the answer to your entertainment woes. Summer at the theatre. (theatre, not theater, get it?)

If you’re looking to reignite that old thrill in entertainment, once only possible by attending the cinema, allow me to suggest to you the thrilling experience of LIVE summer theatre. Below, I give you 4 reasons why your local community theater needs to be trending as the best summer hangout.

  1. The live theatre experience is never the same show on any given night. When you watch your favorite movie, it’s a carbon copy no matter where and when you watch it. Talk all during the important scenes; no change in performance. “Wizard of Oz”-esque tornado outside, no change. Throw it on in the background while you’re cooking dinner and the dog throws up in front of the TV; no affect. This is the beauty of film. But the beauty of live performance is in the variation. Yes, the actors stick to the same script, execute the same blocking (aka movements) they were given, and tell the same story for every performance; BUT, every show is a liiiiiiiiittle bit different. Like a perfectly unique snowflake. No other audience will ever see the very same performance your audience is seeing. And that makes it special. Because it’s live and we’re humans, lines get altered or dropped, props get fumbled, actors make new discoveries about their characters and about the play all the time. If the actors see you texting in the audience or napping, rest assured, it won’t go unnoticed. There have been stories in the news recently about Broadway actors responding to audience members’ rudeness – some even stay in character to school their audiences in theater etiquette. Try to see a play more than once and pick out the slight (or not so slight) differences. Can’t do that with your favorite movie.
  2. Talk backs. Many theaters hold “talk backs,” a chance for audience members to ask questions of the director and actors after seeing the performance. Here at The Western Stage, we call them “ReActions.” You can look up facts about a film or TV show online, but at the theater, you get the chance to speak directly to the actors. Loved the show? Tell them to their face. Hated it? You can tell them that too (seriously, it does happen). Curious to know how certain elements of the show were done? Ask away. At the very least, it’s an opportunity to snag a #selfie with an actor. Click here for TWS’ ReActions Schedule!
  3. In the Elizabethan era, it was considered commonplace for audience members to hoot, holler, throw vegetation, and generally badger the performers onstage. While such behavior is now considered barbaric (Thanks, Richard Wagner), live theater is meant to provoke a response. Many films have the ability to do this, too, but one of the main reasons why a work becomes a play rather than a movie, is because of its intellectual content. The author wants to impart an idea, draw out a reaction, question societal norms, explore the human experience…and there’s no more powerful way to communicate these than with the physical presence of live theatre. No screen, no “safety barrier.” The audience can’t press pause. They can’t walk out to refill their popcorn (I mean, I guess they technically could, but…). The live experience is palpable. You can practically reach out and touch it (but don’t, because lawsuits, etc…). You are experiencing the events onstage as they are happening (not as filmed some months ago), as the characters are experiencing them. The action is in the here and now. You are literally breathing the air that the characters breathe. The actors’ voices resonate in your ears and crawl across your skin. This artform stimulates the senses and the mind. Movies are great for special effects and large-scale mind-blowing action, and your average blockbusters are meant to entertain and make you feel good afterward (and they do!). But if you want to be entertained AND challenged intellectually AND have your senses awakened, make like the Elizabethans and see a play.
  4. Okay, let’s come out with it already. I know what you’ve all been thinking: theatre tickets are WAY more expensive than a movie ticket. Guys, I’m totally with you on this. We’re all living on a budget and trying to get the most bang from our buck, especially when it comes to entertainment which is looked upon as a “frivolous” expense that we always feel a little guilty about indulging in.  But there are a couple ways we can look at this to help ease your economical mind. Live theater is a million times more expensive to produce. A cinema’s expenses include obtaining the films they want to show, some basic utility costs and some staff. The rest of their profits come from markups on concessions. The more showings a film has, the bigger their profit (in a nutshell). A film can be shown an infinite number of times without any additional cost other than aforementioned staff – only profit. Combine this with having more than one venue running the film and you can see how a film can make a ton of money for a reasonably priced ticket. Meanwhile, for a stage production, every time the show runs, it costs. Because it takes people to put on a live show. A lot of people. And the live show does not have the option of adding an infinite number of showings. The maximum amount of shows that can be done per day is 2, possibly 3, if you want to run your actors and crew ragged. The ticket price for a live show is paying for sets (materials and builders), costumes (materials and builders), special effects, light and sound equipment, actors, crew, directors, stage managers, designers, choreographers, musicians, and front of house costs. Also, there are performance rights, publicity, and even rehearsal weeks that all have to be paid for. All this money has to be made back for the theater to break even, which is why the tickets are more expensive.

With a blockbuster film, you are funding giant conglomerate film studios and giant conglomerate movie theaters. (No judgement – I’m seeing Guardians of the Galaxy at the Maya next week). Whereas, at your local community theater, you are helping support local performing artists and artisans, arts education programs for youth and adults, and furthering the growth of fine arts in your community. Is that not worth a little more dough?

Also, at The Western Stage (and most community theaters) season tickets are cheaper than single tickets ($18 vs. $26) and only subscribers are able to exchange their tickets if they want to change their dates. Click here to become a subscriber!