Back before Blackberries and iPhones and Facebook and the Kardashians occupied our every waking moment, there was a thriving live theatre scene in Savannah.
In my previous life before becoming your quasi-favorite, or at least marginally acceptable, weekly newspaper editor, I did a lot of acting with the late, great City Lights Theatre, the labor of love of Jim Holt and Jody Chapin.
People came out of the woodwork to see live theatre here in the '90s - all kinds of people, from body-pierced hipster students to pickled street characters to golf-tanned New Yorkers from the Landings, all hanging out together as one community for at least those two hours.
I remember a packed audience practically hanging from the rafters at the old York Lane Theatre for Beirut, a show about the biggest threat facing civilization at the time: AIDS.
I remember playing Romeo to an audience that filled Telfair Square from corner to corner. The yearly Shakespeare shows got so popular we had to move them to Forsyth Park, routinely performing for multiple thousands of people. I mean, we killed.
And that was just my experience. There are dozens of theatre people in town, most of whom were much more active than I was, who have plenty of stories of their own to tell along the same lines.
I don't want to be one of those old farts who tells you everything was better back in the day - but everything was better back in the day.
Then, somewhere along the line, the internet came along. Video games came along. DVDs came along. Reality TV came along.
Then 9/11 happened, and we began interacting only with people who think and vote the same way we do. The true community experience became more scarce as we became polarized on political and cultural lines, seeking the comfort of the like-minded and the familiar, rather than the adventurous and the new.
Our worlds became bigger, and smaller at the same time. Rather than within a rectangular stage, we lived life within the rectangular screens on our TVs, phones, and computers.
The usual three-weekend runs shrank to two weekends. Then down to one weekend. My last local show was Inherit the Wind at the Lucas Theatre. For one night only.
The regular Shakespeare in the Park shows became a lot less regular. Then stopped entirely.
Life went on, with marriage and kids and fulltime grown-up type jobs. A new generation of local thespians, mostly young triple threat singer/dancer/actor types, came on the scene.
They put on exciting musicals and comedies, usually well-attended. But their shows had a certain recital feel. The audiences seemed padded with schoolmates and family members. Not that there's anything wrong with that... but still. The cross-section wasn't always there.
A few years ago, it looked like Savannah was in a real theatre renaissance, with several groups cropping up and doing their best to kick it old-school. But that turned out to be something of a false rally, and as chronicled in this week's cover story, times are changing again. Several local mainstays, including the Little Theatre of Savannah, the City's Cultural Arts Theatre, and Tom Coleman's Savannah Community Theatre, are recalibrating their efforts, in some cases drastically.
What happened? Arts & Entertainment Editor Bill DeYoung - fresh off his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the city's production of To Kill a Mockingbird, actually quite a successful run - interviews local theatre people in this week's issue to try and answer that question.
As usual, Bill does a great job covering the issue from all angles. But I want to share a quick observation based on my own experience: We have to acknowledge the role of high ticket prices in hurting local theatre, a problem which actually predates the recession.
I forget which show it was, but I remember looking at a program for some play I was in and marvelling that we were charging $24 a ticket. We were good - but not that good.
If there's anyone reading this who's thinking of starting a live theatre company - and if you are, you certainly have a friend in Connect Savannah - consider charging low prices for tickets. I'm talking ten bucks. Or less.
If you're truly in it only for the love of theatre, then it shouldn't matter, right? Better a full house who paid ten bucks apiece than a mostly-empty house who paid $25 apiece. The former will pay the rent just as well as the latter, and everyone will have a much better time.
I'm certain the actors will agree!
Nobody wanted to listen to this advice ten years ago, but it seems that now is the perfect time to offer some value. And at this point, what do we have to lose?
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