The other night I had the rare opportunity of seeing a show without the added pressure of reviewing it. While I absolutely love reviewing, I’ve been doing so much of it these days that it’s almost inconceivable to go to enjoy a piece simply as an audience member, so when I get to it’s definitely a treat.
The A.R.T. has really been on a roll of late. With their many direct-to-Broadway productions over the past couple years, it’s definitely challenged Boston theater makers in terms of what gets put onstage here in the Northeast. The most recent from ART to the great white way is Finding Neverland, a musical adaptation of the Johnny Depp film we all know and love about J.M. Barrie writing childhood classic Peter Pan.
First of all: the show is excellent, the talented performers are spectacular, and it’s going to do really well on Broadway.
But what really struck me the other night was the audience. I see my share of shows at the ART and Oberon, and there’s definitely a huge demographic difference between the main stage and the avant-garde space tucked away in the back end of Harvard Square. But the other night, I saw something truly incredible: children in the audience.
People were taking their kids to see theatre. Whole families had come to see this show. I can’t even begin to tell you how magical that is; and how incredible a success it is to encourage this kind of theater going.
As someone who sees a lot of theater, I can tell you: audiences ain’t getting any younger. The vast majority of houses I wind up sitting in are filled with adults over the age of 40 (the Broadway League declares that the average age of a Broadway theatregoer was 42.5 years in 2012-2013). It’s pretty clear why this is a problem: as the audience grows old enough that they are unable to see theatre, the theatres will empty out. The bottom line is that if we don’t train a new generation of audiences, then we work in an art that is doomed to slowly strangle itself unto death.
Theatre which encourages young audiences to love it is theatre which does vital work in the community. And oh boy did they love it; listening to chatter betwixt parent and child during intermission and as we slowly filtered out of the auditorium, I couldn’t help but find the joy infectious.
So go see Finding Neverland; because it’s a good show, but also because we need to support theatre that supports theatre.