‘Theatre’s major challenge is attracting a younger audience’

2013-11-19 00:00

GETTING young bottoms on seats is the major challenge faced by the theatre industry today, says Illa Thompson of Publicity Matters, an independent theatre publicist.

This comes as the Playhouse Company in Durban gets ready to host a world-renowned production, West Side Story, with a cast of under-20s.

The story of two young people from conflicting cultural backgrounds, who meet, fall in love and are ultimately torn apart by racial intolerance and ignorance brings together a young and fresh cast with a passion for dance and theatre from all around South Africa.

Durban-born and raised theatre practitioner Jarryd Nurden, who plays the role of Riff, the leader of the Jets in the story, says it is important for the youth to be involved in the arts.

“I think it’s so important for the youth to be involved in theatre or even the arts in general. A creative outlet is vital in the process of growing up and to learn how to have a ‘creative release’,” said Nurden.

“I definitely think Durban has room to grow in this respect.”

Nurden said West Side Story would appeal to a younger audience and will hopefully draw in a young crowd.

“It ultimately appeals to everyone … whether it’s the teenage gang warfare that excites you or the romantic tragedy that you witness between Tony and Maria or the phenomenal KZN Philharmonic Orchestra that is playing,West Side Story has something for everyone to enjoy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thompson said as the festive season approached, she suspected fewer under-25s will be rushing out to buy tickets for a Christmas panto or evergreen musical. “The dual concepts of ‘booking ahead’ and ‘live theatre’ don’t hold the same appeal as it did a few years ago. Preferences and interests are evolving, as technology and connectivity become an important priority,” she said.

Thompson says theatre-makers need to engage and find a way of presenting live experiences as a viable option to social media and electronic devices.

“There are some great initiatives in making theatre interesting and relevant to a new audience, such as the Performing Arts Network of SA’s Blue Monday Platform, and the Twist Theatre Development Project, but as an industry, we need to increasingly be attentive to the new priorities and interests of the younger generation if we want theatre to survive into the future.”

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