Imagine if every theater company in town decided to do a play on the same subject every month. How would the Guthrie’s take on the Civil War differ from Penumbras from Heart of the Beast from Brave New Workshop and Walking Shadow? What would be the creative community’s all want to say on global warming? What would the James Sewell Ballet, for example, dance?
Does that sound like a dumb idea?
Yet, every year we see this phenomenon in action during the holidays and, for many companies it’s the biggest moneymaker of the season. Our performance calendar is overwhelming and absurd. New shows, old shows, borrowed shows, blue shows. Marxist holiday musicals, Golden Girls-Dickens mash-ups, choral concerts, Klingon Christmas Carols, and Miracles on Christmas Lake.
Does anyone really need to see a holiday show that badly? Really? Why?
Here are the theories, in no particular order, that we’ve come up with so far at MinnesotaPlaylist:
- People need to do something with their extended families that feels communal but doesn’t involve talking.
- It’s the one time of year when performing artists stop trying so hard to be artists and just do something easy. People like it better.
- Eggnog makes people think they like things they don’t actually like.
- The holiday spirit is actually a theme that the performing arts are particularly good at exploring. (“Audiences sense that the people who do theatre are capable of really believing all that stuff.” - Tom Poole.)
- People actually, finally, have leisure time in a way that they wouldn’t the rest of the year. (See #1 above for why this might lead to spending that time in a theater.)
- The majority of the population has their first, and perhaps only, experience with theater in church. Buying tickets for their family, as adults, triggers a type of spiritual nostalgia that reminds people of something, well, nicer than usual. Something religious somehow--without all the complicated religious stuff.
- People actually prefer plays that they already know. (I’m now expecting to see a theater company devote its next ten years to the same six plays.)
- If we do something long enough in the performing arts, we eventually get good at it.
- The story of A Christmas Carol is just that good.
What do you think?