In it simplest form, theater is the idea of relaying a story between actors and an audience. Its appeal until now has been its ability to transform audiences and actors alike, as well as challenge notions and to offer human transcendence. What has existed as a barometer of human wonder, fear, trepidations, hopes and self expression since the Ancient Greeks where theater first evolved has somehow gestated to a limp, contrived and meandering art form. Yet the irony is, given the current capitulation of our times, the political, economic and social disarray, theater should be the one place we should be gravitating to. Why isn’t it?
A recent survey of theater in recent times will reveal an unsavory revelation— that productions have been closing in record numbers. The likes of Hairspray, Young Frankenstein, 13, Boeing, Boeing, and so many more have met their unfortunate and untimely last blackout. These musicals that entertained so many, particularly the tourists who are now sorely in absentia, were, for the longest time, the bread and butter of theatrical production. It was inevitable that performances oriented towards formulaic cliches and not the reality and aspirations of a local community would soon lead to barreling over a cliff.
On the surface, an obvious reason for the closing of these plays would be due to their ticket prices. People don’t want to go out of their way to pay for tickets that begin at $80 and even go into the $100’s in order to get the celebrated orchestra seats. Rather, paying $12.50 for a movie screening seems more attractive, and even cinema companies will tell you that sales are way down compared to what they once were. Of course, people also now have the option of illegally downloading entertainment for free, going to Hulu (which for the interim offers free cable and movies) or renting it for next to nothing.
Nevertheless, irony strikes in the fact that movie budgets go way up in the millions while theater productions costs barely scratch the surface of what the movies invest in. One of the highest budgets in terms of theater is for the stalled musical: Spiderman, with the budget soaring over the millions to reach $52 million. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Those expenses mean “Spider-Man” would have to sell out every show for as many as four years (a feat only a handful of Broadway shows ever manage) simply to break even, according to several people familiar with the production and its finances.” With the theater of our generation meeting its ill-timed downfall, this seems almost like a fantasy. It’s a sad reality but in Hollywood, a budget of $52 million may be steep but it wouldn’t put production into a screeching halt like it did this one. Bono states, “But who cares? The visuals and the music are amazing, and that’s what will matter.” One has to wonder if people will really rush out to watch a man who isn’t Tobey Maguire in a skin-tight Spiderman outfit busting out in song? Will it even attract the New Yorkers nestled in their penthouse cocoons? If the legendary Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein couldn’t even make the cut, what makes Bono so confident that ‘Spider man’ will.