Ross: Theater needs to change to adapt to a new audience

Aug 30, 2023, 8:04 AM | Updated: 9:05 am

theater change audience...

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 26: Dance group Shaping Sound performs during the 'After The Curtain' show at Paramount Theatre on March 26, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)

My wife and I have been going to the theater in Seattle for 45 years. We subscribe to five theater companies because there is nothing more magical than the energy that’s released when a group of talented performers bond with a live audience.

But a lot of theater companies here and across the country are in trouble. The pre-pandemic audiences have not returned.

More from Dave Ross: We need to go after people fueling youth crime wave

In June, Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theater closed after 33 years. We lost the Empty Space Theatre, the Group Theater at the University of Washington, that little theater in Pioneer Square where, back in the 80s, Angry Housewives ran for almost seven years.

(Remember Angry Housewives? The first punk rock musicals? “Eat your BLEEP-ing cornflakes!” Anyone remember? Besides Feliks? (official historian of Seattle’s Morning News))

Anyway, when the New York Times ran an article about this trend, it unleashed a flood of comments that tell me there is more going on here than just COVID-19. It may be that for a lot of subscribers, the pandemic was a guilt-free way to get out of going to shows they were no longer enjoying.

And again and again, the reason was, ‘We are tired of being preached to.’

Theater subscribers tend to be liberal, and all about social justice, but in the hundreds of comments on the Times article, they said they were tired of seeing social justice themes, and gender and racial themes, being played onstage over and over again.

It’s hard to create a bond with the audience when the audience drives home feeling guilty.

I love live theater. I love any show that leads to a good, deep discussion on the way home. But sometimes, you just want to go out and have fun. You just want to laugh without wondering whether you should have laughed.

Part of the problem, of course, is that theater audiences, in addition to being liberal, are mostly well-off, white, and old. Yes, my hand is up, guilty on all counts.

In addition to being defensive, we’re either dying off or not as eager to drive downtown at night, especially if it’s the theatrical equivalent of a kale salad.

But at some point, you have to bond with the old and defensive audience of the present, even as you try to attract the young and pugnacious audience of the future.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

KIRO Newsradio Opinion

presidential debate...

Charlie Harger

Harger: It’s time to try something different regarding presidential debates

Is it going to change anyone's mind? It's hard not to be cynical about the CNN Presidential Debate coming up Thursday evening.

9 hours ago


MyNorthwest Video

Video: Spike Tries To Infect Us With COVID

Is COVID, and quarantining people, still something we have to worry about? You might notice the absence of one half of this fine radio program. Spike O’Neill attempts to take down The Jack and Spike Show and fails thanks to the tireless efforts of KIRO Newsradio’s very own Jack Stine. Tune in live to The […]

23 hours ago


MyNorthwest Video

Video: Cop Who Arrested Justin Timberlake For DWI INFURIATES Hamptons Elite

More details emerge about the 23-year-old Sag Harbor officer who arrested Justin Timberlake for a DWI. Michael Arkinson, hero in our hearts, rookie on the force and seemingly a perfectly reasonable officer of the law, has been unmasked by the media. And apparently he has been ‘infuriating’ vacationers in the Hamptons for months. Jack Stine […]

24 hours ago

ten commandments louisiana...

Dave Ross

Ross: As Louisiana requires the Ten Commandments in classrooms, don’t limit anti-sin campaigns to schools

The State of Louisiana has passed a law requiring the Ten Commandments to be posted in every school in the state.

1 day ago

Children wave American flags. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)...

Travis Mayfield

Mayfield: Democracy needs your help

There are many reasons to be concerned about democracy. But one that we don’t talk much about is our own willingness to actually participate.

4 days ago

Image: A Pride flag flies under a flag of the United States at Oakland Alameda Coliseum in Oakland,...

Angela Poe Russell

Angela Poe Russell: We need to end the Pride flag debate, take real action

With June being Pride month, there has been debate over the flag and proclamations and what should the government's role be in this.

6 days ago

Ross: Theater needs to change to adapt to a new audience