Nationally, the percentage of the population that regularly attends the theater for plays is 8 percent. For musicals, it is 15 percent. I understand, as most of us in the theatrical field do, that we have had our heyday in America, at least for the near future. But we are no less relevant and necessary.
As an informal survey of the Reno Area Theatre Alliance evidenced that in Reno, we still have a bit of the market to capture. Anecdotally, we guessed about 3,000 people are habitual theater-goers in the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area. That’s about 1 percent. And by “habitually,” we mean people we remember from show to show.
If you’re reading this, you are probably a theater attendee. So then, I ask you, when was the last time you brought someone to a show who doesn’t usually go? When was the last time you leaned over to a co-worker and said, “Wanna catch something at Reno Little Theater this week?” Because we can’t do it without you. We can’t develop, sustain and change this city and culture without each and every one of you making converts for us.
You might not know this, but in addition to running Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company, I also work for Sierra Arts Foundation. It is an amazing foundation that does incredible, mostly unseen, work in our city supporting artists and delivering arts to under-served populations. Our largest fundraiser is an event called Brew HaHa. (Side note: 2014’s event at the Nugget will be Jan. 24.) If you’ve been to this bacchanal of brews and music, you might have missed that Sierra Arts has much at all to do with it. I would hazard a guess that 99 out of 100 attendees don’t know or care what Sierra Arts is or does.
Now, I love this event because of the money that it raises for the essential work Sierra Arts does. My question is, why do we have to trick people into supporting the arts? And believe me, we do. We’ve all got our booze-infused events.
As I attended a virtual summit on the arts through ArtsFwd last weekend, one of the comments that came up frequently in different ways was that the difficulty with the arts is a “marketing” problem. But that is just plain wrong. The root of the problem is much deeper. What we are witnessing today is not just a cultural shift away from live arts-centered shared experience, but the effects of cutting off the educational base of our arts experience and expectations.
I regret that this column is only so long because there is so much to say. And I preach to the choir when I tap these keys. But as we begin to show that we, Nevada, can buck the trend of not being the last in everything (or first of the worst), let’s take a look at how the performing arts can play a part in the growth, rehabilitation and definition of what makes Reno freaking awesome. Get your friends to see a show and see the future.
This article was originally written for, and reprinted with the permission of, The Reno Gazette Journal.