Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tucson Theater and The Tucson Press

Just taking a breather from reading other folks’ political blogging to pass on a commentary about the state of the press. Art Almquist, MFA, is a local actor and the Director of Theatre at Tucson High Magnet School. He’s submitted the following commentary for a Guest Opinion spot in the Arizona Daily Star.

Not sure of getting published he’s passed it on to folks in the Tucson theater scene and I’m posting it here:

Since mankind learned to communicate, live theatre has been one of the most invigorating art forms around. The movies can give you special effects, but in what other story-based performance art form can you feel the thrill of knowing that the play’s world is being created and controlled right before your very eyes? Kathy Allen, the Star’s theatre critic, knows this. What frustrates me is that those behind the new, “improved” incarnation of Caliente don’t.

Clearly aiming for the ever-important younger demographic, they have decided to “hip up” Caliente. (Music is now referred to as “Soundz.” How hip is that?) Caliente now features no fewer than 11 pages devoted to music and 13 devoted to movies and TV.

Local live theatre, which is made up of Tucsonans working insanely long hours for little or no pay (and almost always in addition to a full-time job), all for the sole purpose of entertaining other Tucsonans? Beyond a tiny calendar listing as far back as possible without being the crossword, it receives no mention. “My Ride” devotes a page to someone’s hip mode of transportation, but local theatre gets not a word. Not a picture. Not a thing. This is not just a snub to the thousands of us who either work in or support local theatre; frankly, it’s a slap in the face. We’re confused by this decision, and yes, we’re angry.

Any member of any theatrical community will tell you: we depend on newspapers for our audience. We wish this weren’t the case, and that people would fill our seats every night on their own. Among the many things we have to compete with are DVDs, satellite TV, movie theatres, and, ironically, touring theatrical productions. A trendy touring production brings with it name recognition (“I heard it was such a wonderful show!”), more expensive production values (“Now that was a show!”), and cocktail party conversation (“Did you see that show?”). Local theatre has precious little money to spend on anything, and so depends on coverage given in the newspapers for its publicity. In my years as a local actor and Director of Theatre at Tucson High, every bit of coverage given in the Star has helped enormously in bringing audiences out.

And please, don’t tell me that it’s all good because the reviews and previews will still appear on other days. It’s not okay. People go to Caliente for their entertainment plans. I speak from immediate experience: On the Verge, the play in which I currently am acting, received a positive Tuesday review from Kathy Allen. Audience response to the show has been tremendously positive. The size of our largest house: 27. Caliente coverage: zero. It’s no coincidence.

I am not exaggerating or being “dramatic”: if this does not change, local theatre will die in Tucson. And it will be missed. I ask everyone, from actors to patrons to directors to ushers to fans: please contact the Star and tell them you don’t care about being “hip.” You want local theatre!

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