The Playgoer: Hytner's RNT

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hytner's RNT

Michael Billington says attention must be paid to Nicholas Hytner's achievement at the Royal National Theatre, which, in short, has been to look beyond (while including) the traditional old-white-folk theatre audience:

What's the secret of Hytner's success? Cheap tickets, obviously: the £10-ticket scheme in the Olivier is the most radical, yet basically simple, audience-building idea in my lifetime. But Hytner has also realised a fundamental truth: that there is no longer a single, monolithic audience for theatre but a series of separate constituencies, hence his scheduling of canonical classics by Shakespeare, Shaw and Coward for the "brochure" audience. He has also realised that there is a younger group hungering for a more innovative kind of physical theatre: exactly the people who flocked to Emma Rice's A Matter of Life and Death and Katie Mitchell's version of The Waves. Productions like Coram Boy and His Dark Materials have also redefined what used to be patronisingly known as "children's theatre."
Of NYC theatres, the Public has the potential for such a balance. And even now the Roundabout--with their new blackbox/$20-a-seat space. But can such theatres use their "alternative"spaces for consistently inventive, daring, dare I say offensive work?

The best thing about the Roundabout experiment is that (like the National £10-ticket) it is totally outside of the subscription. Which means there's a better chance that the audience at any given performance will not consist mostly of culturally conservative subscribers who don't know what they're seeing. And that if a show is a hit, a better chance that tickets will still be available to younger, non theatre-savvy patrons-to-be.


Anonymous said...

There is an abundance of grey hair bashing going on. I remind readers that without these grey hairs there would hardly be any institutional theatre in NY and in most regions. (I fear a number of your misguided readers would welcome the demise.)

This is the last of a generation that grew up with a habit of theatregoing and the belief that it was a responsibility to not only attend but to write checks at least once or twice a year. They have actually heard of Samuel Beckett and know that a Restoration comedy is not a reality show gone bad. They are not socially conservative and they are more than welcome at my theatre.

Playgoer said...

Fair point, anon. Indeed, us young 'uns can all to easily slip into age-ism and forget how decimated our theatres would be without the incredibly loyal support of our senior fellow attendees. And whenever whiter-haired ones DON"t walk out of a rude & crude new play, I'm so impressed! Of course, nothing they haven't seen before having probably sat through Shepard, Living Theatre, and Hair at their peak.

(Yes, some of those greybeards may be former hippies!)

I think we can agree, though, that at least some of the upper age bracket is more conservative, at least aesthetically conservative.

Plus, where the ageism comes from is a desire for younger audiences to--for once--have a theatre experience that's not like going with your grandparents. That can be nice, too. But the generation under 40 will never be able to claim a tradition of their own unless they can bond over that amongst themselves. At least once in a while.

And while the audience should always ideally be "mixed", think about comedy, for a second, and how much a hipper comedy, like Gone Missing or Pig Farm depends on a younger audience to even "seem" funny. With only half (or less) the house laughing, the scent of discouraging failure sets in fast.