Opinion | Ideas for Transforming American Theater

To the Editor:

“20 Theater Figures on How to ‘Revolutionize’ Their World” (Arts & Leisure, Sept. 13):

Twenty theater figures have 20 — no, more than 20 — ideas on how to revolutionize the theater! But we only need to do one simple thing: subsidize the theater.

Throughout the history of Western culture, every period of theatrical fecundity has been led by a subsidized theater — Aeschylus and Sophocles, the Moscow Art Theater, the Abbey Theater, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the W.P.A.’s Federal Theater Project — and this is simply because the theater is, on the one hand, much too important to be neglected, and on the other hand, way too labor-intensive to be profitable. And this is especially the case if ticket prices are kept low enough that going to the theater is available to everyone.

If the theater were paid for by a society that cared about the health of its culture, we wouldn’t have to “challenge the theater industry’s leadership model,” because getting a play done wouldn’t depend on the approval of a few elderly white men. We wouldn’t have to “eliminate unpaid internships” because we’d be able to pay people to work. We wouldn’t have to “see a couch onstage” over and over again because we wouldn’t be limited to plays about the first-world problems of affluent white people.

David Berman
New York
The writer is a former professional actor both on Broadway and Off Broadway.

To the Editor:

Re “Let’s End the Rule of Sit Down and Shut Up” (Arts & Leisure, Sept. 13):

Alexis Soloski suggests that elitist, “classist” and “arguably racist” thinking drives the standard ideas regarding silence in Broadway theaters, instead of landing on the more rational explanation that noise from the audience interferes with our ability to hear the actors onstage.

She seems to have a much broader agenda, a theater experience in which audience “engagement — in various forms — is celebrated.” She wants us to have “more tolerance of other people’s pleasure” expressed in these various ways to make “delight and not obedience the new normal” in theater.

In this new normal, what will restrain these expressions of delight that, by her own account, appear to include cellphone use? Who will draw a line? And, ultimately, why will people go to the theater if they cannot reliably hear the actors and follow the action onstage?

Isn’t that really the “people’s pleasure” at the heart of theater, the ability to immerse oneself in the world created by the playwright and the actors? Isn’t audience engagement just that? I would argue that we do not need a “new normal” to find delight in the theatergoing experience.

Patricia Jackson
Austin, Texas

To the Editor:

I have a modest strategy for the time when a vaccine is available and Broadway performers can safely interact onstage, yet patrons remain too wary to fill a house. Picture this: Audience members are seated per social distancing, and cameras are stationed at the orchestra and mezzanine levels. Tickets sales are opened nationwide to theater lovers who purchase modestly priced “seats” for a real-time nightly broadcast from the given section, prices to vary per section.

Each virtual “seat” can be sold multiple times, and in this way sales can reach or exceed prior full-house levels. Out-of-state viewers enjoy a live New York City experience with applause, laughter, standing ovation, etc. In-person theatergoers enjoy the show, and the performers are back onstage.

Elaine Lindy

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