Songs for the Struggling Artist


What I wish American Theatre would learn from the Brits (#1)

#1) Put a bar/restaurant/cafe in every theatre and keep it open even when there isn’t a show. This is such a fixture in British theatre that people will say to each other, “I’ll meet you in the bar” without ever having seen the place. There are many many benefits to this teeny tiny gesture. It builds community and good will around the theatre like you wouldn’t believe. It can also introduce new people to a place they wouldn’t otherwise attend. I saw this in action at the prestigious Young Vic Theatre, where a super hip bar/restaurant called The Cut occupies the lobby. As I walked through on my way to a show, I heard a man say to his friend as he passed a poster, “Oh! There’s a theatre here?” Now there’s no way of knowing if that guy will ever come back to see something at the Young Vic, he might just drink there on the weekends, but he’s much more likely to come back to see something at the theatre since he knows where it is and that he likes to hang out there.

Having a bar in the theatre is wonderful for both sides of the stage. As a patron, I love this about British Theatre. I can meet my friends in the bar before the show, chat with them and say hello to other people I’ve met at other theatres during the intermission and after the show, we can have some food and discuss what we’ve seen. When the artists emerge, I can let them know that I enjoyed their work, or just watch them interact with their friends and audience which has the effect of investing me more in their performances. Having an experience surrounding the show makes an evening at the theatre feel like a complete experience instead of just another thing I consume. (I buy a ticket, gobble up that show and I’m on to something else.) Having a bar/cafe to sit in before, during and after extends that experience and makes it breathe. I also like having a reason to go to the theatre when nothing is playing. I find this increases my likelihood of seeing something there, either because I’ve seen the artists loading on a break or something or because I’m seeing the publicity in a much more focused space.

As an artist, I love it because it means that people who’ve come to see me have a comfortable place to wait for me while I take off my make-up! It also means that more people will wait to greet me after a show because they have a place to do it – in that the bar is their space as much as mine as the artist. This is so much better than hanging around in some hallway feeling like you’re in everyone’s way.

Meanwhile, on the theatre’s side, it  is STILL making money even after the show. Having a bar in the theatre saves that horrible decision moment of where to go after the show. There’s not much question, you stay at the theatre. You save the fifteen minutes of debating where might still be open and the half hour spent walking there (by which time you’ve lost half of your friends.)

It’s also very convenient for networking.  While I was assisting on a show at the Arcola Theatre, in the bar I was introduced to many of the fancy-pants people who’d come to see the star. I had conversations that I might never have had the opportunity for otherwise but could because we were conveniently able to stay in the bar after the show.

There are a few theatres in America who have bars in their buildings, I know, and I salute you. However, I’m not talking about one or two theatres doing this. I’m talking about building a culture of going to the theatre and for culture and community to build it needs space and food and drink. The theatres I know that have bars in this country close them up after intermission and quickly usher their patrons out of the building leaving them to discuss what they saw out on the street or in the bar down the road or not at all. Fundamentally, this just seems like a waste of good will and energy. The performance has generated something in its audience as a collective and it seems to me that by offering them a collective space can only help the theatre where they’ve had the experience. That audience will tell its friends who haven’t been there about it and they will come and have a drink with them and the audience will grow. Rather than being a room full of individuals coming to consume a little show, we become a community. This might allow us to not only value the show that we see (which let’s face it, is not always brilliant) but value the theatre as a whole.

Please can we do this? Please?

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