There continues to be this controversy around producers putting on well-known productions instead of using new works and new writers, the excuse always seems to be that ‘the risks are too high with new works’.
The Mousetrap, Les Miserable and even The Lion King all started as new works before becoming iconic shows in London’s West End and around the world. Other shows regularly produced are the likes of the Sound of Music, Grease and Mary Poppins which are all best known for their big screen versions more than the stage productions. But when these shows are revived or adapted is it because there’s really a call for them or is it an attempt at franchising because producers really can’t make anything else work?
Like with many other jobs people can be doing it for so long that they begin to believe the way they do things is the only way things will work. This however only reaches out to the same kind of audience is reached and even when it comes to the revivals they don’t necessarily bring in a new kind of people, just the same in a new generation.
Show business has always been a complete gamble it involves more risk taking than any other industry because every time a new show is produced, a new work or revival, it always starts with a blank canvas. By contrast when you introduce a new product to stock in a shop the customers can still buy the old stock, when an electrician fixes the wiring he must reach a standard to issue a certificate.
But theatre, like authors it’s about the reputation, publishing and reviews of the event that makes the audience come in. It’s about how creative, original and inspiring an idea can be to grab the punters imagination. If a concept can be sold to just half a dozen people then it will be carried and interpreted so others will buy the idea to fill the house. It’s almost like starting a new business every time.
If we are not willing to tap into the imagination of those people who don’t cross the threshold into the living room of a theatre with what is already out there on offer, maybe it could be the new and fresh idea that will fill that extra seat. Why should anyone give anyone funding to produce the same titles over again, over time even the ordinary person could probably work out how much it cost to put on the show for the several hundredth time. Why should we invest time in schools when we already know how shows are supposed to be performed? Is it possible that an attitude of ‘anyone can do that’ is stronger than ever today? The world is always looking for something new, for something more exciting and it is this that makes the arts industry hard, it is why drama schools work the students hard.
I am not saying we should not revive the golden oldies, but we need to do it in proportion where by new works get a good look in, where the public can make the decision if a writer is worth the ticket money or not and it so good we have fringe festivals where performances can be tried out, but the fringe isn’t the only place this should happen.
Is it possible that by not taking as many risks of producing more new works that the arts is living a self-prophecy of self-destruction by failing to inspire more people?