Victim of progress

The classic party song ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ describes a singer whose career is cut short by television, but in reality the truth is far different – radio is as strong as ever, and in Australia, the AM and FM market are amongst the most lucrative industries within entertainment, despite the more advanced technology that exists in competition.

Perhaps the song should have been ‘Video Killed The Theatre Star’ because in truth the theatre industry has been a massive victim of so-called progress, both in society in general and when it comes to the number of theatres we have in our major cities.

Toni Lamond’s interview with Radio 2UE on Thursday (if you haven’t listened to it, logon to and find it) was a real eye-opener. Here was a legend of the industry not living in la-la land, admitting that essentially, we as a society have failed to continue theatre’s proud legacy in this country.

Sure, she didn’t use those words, but that’s what I took out of it.

“It just broke my heart to see yet another theatre being destroyed and not replaced by another theatre,” Lamond said of the Tivoli’s closure.

“There were about six or eight shows in Sydney and Melbourne because we had more theatres then.”

She went on:  “Entertainment can be on your mobile phone now – it’s accessible and people don’t realise what they’re missing with the chemistry between the audience and the people on stage – there’s nothing like it.”

Here, here Toni.

We as a generation owe it to people like Toni Lamond and the legends of her generation to ensure that theatre survives, but in so many cases, the writing is on the wall.

Will ‘progress’ destroy other great theatres, and if people do suggest they disappear, will we fight for them? I’m not talking about it happening tomorrow, but in 10 or 20 years, will people care if the Capitol Theatre is destroyed? We can only hope so, but I have a fear that we won’t.

We’re going backwards when it comes to respect in society, and there is no way in hell that theatre is considered ‘cool’. Could it be that perhaps we just don’t market to youth in the right way, or have I got this wrong? Am I putting people in a box and not recognising that there is a huge youth movement in theatre?

It’s not just popularity that will hurt theatre, though.

In Penrith, where I live, we lost the Q Theatre back in 2006. ‘Progress’ played a part there too – there’s now a State Government office building on the site and the theatre that created so many regional theatre memories has moved into the somewhat stagnant and cold Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre.

It’s just not the same.

We see that the tiny Acorn Theatre in Perth will close, simply because we’ve put too many stumbling blocks in the way. I know the building is riddled with asbestos and there’s really no other way forward, but things like this will see other small, community-based theatres disappear – rules and regulations that the under-funded spirit of theatre can simply not afford.

To our younger readers, you obviously have an interest in theatre. What about your friends? You know, those not in the industry? I know that in my circle of non-theatre friends, I am seen as the odd one out. No interest in musicals or plays.

I’m sitting here trying to get to my ultimate point but I guess the point is that I am fearful that the theatre industry will simply become a victim of a future in which live entertainment is too expensive to both produce and watch.

We will have a generation growing up thinking that watching television on your mobile phone is good quality entertainment. Probably the same people that ring those ‘love calculator’ things advertised on television.

We need to find a solution – a solution to ensure that this industry continues to grow and move forward. We cannot rely on the past to determine the future.

Thankfully, we do have extraordinary talent that could help us move forward. And television shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ showcase live performance in a way that makes it relevant to younger audiences – and some of them are awesome actors too, just check out the crying.

If we aren’t careful, theatre in this country could disappear. It may sound dramatic, but it could well be true.

You can’t survive on family and friends forever.

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