Too Much Theater?


Friday, March 25, 2011

Are there too many little theater companies in America? Last month, that question was the shot heard round the theater world from National Endowment for the Arts Chair Rocco Landesman, a former Broadway producer. Landesman shocked the theater community by observing at a play development conference that the problem is one of supply and demand: “Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply."

Scott Walters was in the audience. "Of course, there was live blogging and tweeting going on in that room," he told Kurt Andersen, "and suddenly people were talking about 'artistic death panels.'" Walters is the director of the Center for Rural Arts Development and Leadership Education (CRADLE) in Asheville, North Carolina which works to bring theater back to rural America.  Unlike many of his peers, Walters welcomed the conversation that Landesman sparked. 

In fact, he believes that non-profit theaters may need to change their business model entirely.  "All these organizations rely 50% on unearned income—I don't think that's sustainable."  Walters isn't against government funding per se, but he thinks there should be more grants for theaters outside the New York-Chicago-LA circuit.  "They don't need anymore fertilizer, we need it in South Dakota and Nebraska and other places where there is a lot of demand and not much supply."

(B Rosen/flickr)

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Scott Walters

Produced by:

Derek John

Comments [7]

beth troxell from pennsylvania

I have been teaching theatre for over 15 years to middle school at-risk students in a residential setting. I need not explain how powerful a tool theatre making is to a young hungry student . Their ability to make art is a constant source of wonder to themselves and an enormous joy to their supports the never ending need to make art in all kinds of media wherever the impulse may be.

Jun. 11 2011 03:18 PM
Brett Kemnitz from Milwaukee, WI

Here in Milwaukee the best theater is being done by small companies. Quality seems to be in inverse proportion to money from philanthropic community.

Apr. 18 2011 09:06 AM
Scott Walters from Asheville, NC

By the way, if you are trying to get in touch with me, feel free to email at walt828 at gmail dot come

Mar. 28 2011 03:31 PM
Scott Walters from Asheville, NC

While I generally agree with you, Larry, I would also say that you get into problems when you regard the arts as a commodity to be sold, rather than an experience to be shared. The slogan of my organization is "bringing the arts back home." Let TV and film take care of the generalized mass entertainment. The theatre is local -- it takes place one at a time in a specific place. It ought to be like a local restaurant that has local cuisine, rather than TGI Fridays! Finally, I do happen to think that sharing an arts experience can be uplifting, but the only way to do that without being superior is to be part of the community and contribute as an equal.

Mar. 27 2011 09:15 PM
Larry Chandler from Cedar City, Utah

Government handouts are pretty much a thing of the past. If a theater is going to survive it will have to provide product their audience wants to see. Too many theaters feel their mission is to "educate" and "uplift" their patrons.

Few theaters recognize that Shakespeare didn't write art. He wrote popular entertainment. If a theater produces for its audience instead of itself, who knows, perhaps demand will increase.

Mar. 27 2011 12:48 PM
Michael J. Curtiss from

I'm proud to live in New Hampshire, a state that's home to over 50 community theatre companies, 20-plus professional companies, 2 umbrella organizations and a host of venues, all of which manage to do quite well under their own auspices, and with little to no assistance from state or federal agencies.

While one may argue that there's a saturation point when it comes to certain kinds of theatre and the demographics to which they play, I'm of the opinion that it's the audience which determines what that point may be.

In that all theatre relies upon the audience in order to sustain itself, perhaps the idea of what constitutes "too much" or "too little" theatre is best left its patrons.

Michael J. Curtiss
Theatre Critic & Blogger
Caught In The Act!

Mar. 26 2011 03:13 PM
Brian Kelley from Alexandria, VA

Thank you for this segment. On one extreme, there is a real need for institutions to serve as venues for artists. These artists also need enough money to make a living, too! On the other end, as mentioned with Spiderman, no amount of money can save a flawed project. The lessons of this segment may be useful beyond art!

Mar. 26 2011 02:31 PM

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