'We're driving straight up the cliff': Theater is back, but recovery proves perilous

Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

"Whatever we do, it has to inspire consumer confidence," he says. "And if consistency is the thing that inspires consumer confidence, then I'm all for it."

The pandemic's silver lining, say those interviewed, is that performing arts groups had to rally around one another in service of mutual survival. The result is that organizations have never been closer or more in tune and are talking about ways they might implement cohesive COVID safety policies now that government oversight has subsided.

But audiences are only one component of recovery.

The nearly 18 months that stages across the country went dark were also marked by uprisings for racial and social justice, for equity of access, for diversity onstage, backstage and in the audience. So the question, according to those interviewed, is no longer about simply returning to stages but, rather, what various organizations want to look like, what kinds of productions they choose to stage, and how they want to operate as they seek to regain financial footing.

Optimism abounds among arts organizations about what they are capable of and what they are trying to accomplish at this pivotal moment in time. If they can just hang in long enough to see regular full houses.


Brown believes battered audience enthusiasm can be shored up by shifting the conversation from financial losses to the potential loss of the art form itself and what that would mean for the community.

"There has to be a real narrative about the vital importance of the arts in troubled times, like that of the pandemic," Brown says. "There is something profound about the communal dynamic of performing arts, and if we start focusing on what we do, and why it's meaningful and impactful on society, I think we will go a long way toward encouraging a quiet return to the theater."


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