I just read a really great article by John Olive about video games and Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) and something he said harmonized with something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. He writes:
“Few children’s theaters are doing well and some are slashing their budgets, carrying crippling deficits, laying off staff, doing fewer plays, plays with smaller casts and noticeably simpler production concepts.”Small-scale theater has been on my mind because it is one of the things that the New Vic Collaboratory: a TYA Artist Initiative is focusing on in its pilot stage. The Collaboratory is particularly eager to nurture innovative new work for families that that could have a future touring life. To that end, we are encouraging and challenging theater artists to create shows that possibly feature smaller casts and simpler production concepts - without sacrificing artistic quality.
I know that touring can be expensive – smaller-scale shows often call for smaller, more intimate audiences and that means fewer tickets to sell. If you’re a theater company just trying to keep your head above water, or a presenter with no budget to subsidize any loss in box office income, small-scale work isn’t usually the top priority. And I’m not suggesting that it necessarily should be. It’s just an example of how one might use these recessionary times to change direction and look at previously unexplored creative options.
We all want the TYA industry to regain some financial footing and flourish, but for now, maybe being forced to do more with less isn’t altogether a bad thing. Maybe these economic constraints will be a catalyst for creativity, offering performing arts organizations a chance to see their work from a new perspective. Out of this financial crisis might come some fantastic smaller-scale productions that otherwise might never have been made and this might lead to more high-quality touring theater for kids in the future. It’s cliché, but so very true: necessity is the mother of invention.
Carrie DuBois is the Assistant Director of Programming at The New Victory Theater. Since 2004, Carrie has helped evaluate and select the diverse international productions that make up the New Victory's seasons. She also curates the FYI Lobby Exhibits and makes costumes for Victor Bee. In the past, she has written two plays for kids and collaborated on unusual, environmentally-staged theater in various locations around the city including the Tall Ship Peking, Belvedere Castle, a store front window on 42nd Street, and many NYC playgrounds.