“Minneapolis is such a great theater town,” a new acquaintance said to me the other day. “That’s what makes this such a great place to live!” he continued. “He’s right,” I thought. But then I asked him, “Which theater production did you last see?” He hemmed and hawed and then confessed that he could not actually remember the last performance he had attended.
To my surprise, later that same day, another individual commented on the “local theater scene” expressing amazement at the opportunities we have in the Twin Cities and asking if it’s true that Minneapolis has more theater seats per capita than any other American city outside of New York. (It does.)
Unable to resist, I once again inquired about what he had seen recently. Sadly, he said he’d not been to a single theater production in several years because of work, school, time and a host of other factors.
These two instances underscored for me a serious disconnect in our society today — believing that we can have what we want without taking action to get it or keep it, or assuming that it just happens and will always be there.
Do we really believe we can have a nationally recognized theater community that attracts and keeps a talented workforce, yet rely on someone else to actively support it? To expand the idea, can we have a beautiful and well-maintained city, but leave it to someone else to remove the litter and make sure our public spaces are green and attractive? Do we honestly believe we can have terrific public transit, but not take the responsibility to use it and pay for it? I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way; the buck stops with you!
We don’t get the kind of city we want through inaction. We make our city what it is through conscious effort. So, if you think being a great theater town is important, then let’s act like it. Here are five easy steps you can take to make our theatre town “real”:
1. Fall in love all over again with your theater town. Attend a theater, music, dance, comedy or other live performance this weekend. Better yet, invite friends to accompany you and meet for dinner before the show. Be the initiator!
2. Volunteer at a theater. Be an usher, a greeter, a tour guide or anything that supports the arts and gives you access. If money is really tight, you may be surprised to discover that low ticket prices are available through rush lines, student, senior or other discounts. You can still enjoy great entertainment, foster our theater city and avoid spending money you don’t have.
3. Give tickets as a meaningful gift to friends, to reward your hardworking colleagues or to thank the teacher who has been especially kind to your child. Most theaters offer gift certificates and many have programs that provide special or early access to tickets or events.
4. Talk about your theater experiences. Research reveals that the single greatest reason someone attends a performance is because of a personal recommendation. Talking about and recommending a show contributes to the theater culture that is so important to our theater city. You can also attend events like the annual Ivey Awards that celebrate our nationally recognized theater community.
5. Finally, you can support our theatre city with a financial donation. Every theater I know of is anxious to receive your gift, at whatever level is possible for you. Your support will make a difference and will advance our entire theater town.
Tom Hoch is president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres, a nonprofit organization devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities. Please visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org for more information.