SLO REP’s 2022 production of The Children. Photo by RyLo Media Design, Ryan C. Loyd

Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty recently addressed an urgent issue facing all theatre companies, especially since COVID: dwindling audiences. “The venues are open,” he says, “But so too are whole rows of seats—a disheartening sight for ambitious, meaningful work.”

In the newspaper’s most recent issue of its “Essential Arts” Newsletter, McNulty is referring to playwright Jessica Goldberg “pulling off a neat trick” in her new play presented by the Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre in LA that was not well-attended. “But if only a small number of theatergoers witness the sleight-of-hand,” he asks, “Has the magic really happened?

“Where have all the committed playgoers gone?”

I argue that this question applies equally to small, local, community companies, who have mostly tried to balance audience-pleasing fare (Oklahoma one more time?—and I don’t mean the 2019 revival) with material that challenges us to take a closer look at the world and at our own closely-held beliefs (Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children, produced this past spring by SLO REP, as one local example).

McNulty points out that the number of patrons who turn out not just for individual shows, but for entire seasons as well, has dropped off—“throwing into doubt the future of companies that have long been working against the odds to forge vital local connections to the art form.”

In other words, it’s season subscribers who help support the entire repertoire of a company—and I’m not just talking about theatre, but other performing arts groups as well.

I’m paraphrasing McNulty here in making a recommendation to everyone in SLO County who says they support the arts: Buy season tickets. It’s an investment in something larger than one evening’s entertainment. Accept the responsibility to help the community forge connections to our most precious art forms. Make the magic happen.

:: Charlotte Alexander