But What of Tomorrow, Mr. Strong?

So here we sit in the 21st century, we happy few who make theatre, and we're all trying to figure out just exactly where we fit in this brave new world of YouTube, 24-hour cable news, iPods, MySpace, and yes, bloggers. Theatres across the country are experiencing a dramatic drop in subscription sales and even advance single ticket sales. Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group (which publishes the outstanding magazine American Theatre), wrote a great essay about the challenges ahead, in the current issue of American Theatre.

When we look back on the last century (particularly the second half), we see such amazing innovation, such incredible experimentation and artistic growth, during which time American theatre took preeminence as the most important, most vigorous, most adventurous in the world. As Eyring asks in her essay, what will people be looking back on at the end of this century? What great gifts to world theatre and art will we leave behind?

It seems to me we need to be thinking about two things. First, in order to survive, and in order to really serve our communities as we should, theatre must provide an experience that TV, movies, and the internet cannot. People can get passive storytelling everywhere now, but only live theatre can give them an active, engaged storytelling experience. And we all need storytelling -- as Sondheim says, it's how we make order out of the chaos of the world. Humans have always needed storytelling and that will likely never change.

But too much theatre today is still passive. If it is to survive, theatre has to jump down off that stage and engage its audience! Theatre has to stop separating actors from audiences! Theatre has to stop giving audiences sitcom plays and emotionally dishonest (or worse, emotionally empty) musicals! Theatre must be, once again, about something! (Luckily for St. Louis, we have Hydeware, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, New Line, The Tin Ceiling...) If we don't do these things, why should audiences leave the comfort of Charter-on-Demand?

We have to remember that we are not owed an audience -- we must be worthy of one!

The other thing we have to think about is technology. Let's use the internet (New Line's website has had 1.2 million visitors!), let's use YouTube, MySpace, digital video, podcasts, blogs, and all the other wonders of the last decade. The real value of live theatre is its humanity, but let's use all the tools of human communication at our disposal to reach and connect with potential audiences (especially younger audiences!), to bring them to our stages and get them excited about our work through the limitless power of modern technology.

Art is how we record our civilization, but too many theatres in St. Louis and across the country still seem to be recording the Fifties. It's time to listen to Darwin -- evolve or become extinct.

Long Live the Musical!