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“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a famously unabashed audience participation movie. People love it. They line up for hours to get inside and turn a two-dimensional movie into a living, breathing, night of performance art.

So why do people hate live theatre so much? The people up on stage are right there in front of you, not on a screen in something recorded months or years earlier. And in live theatre, when the play is over, you might even get to shake hands with the actors and tell them how much you liked (or didn’t like) what you just saw. Think Tom Cruise is gonna come out and chat with you when “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” is over?

But Tom gets way more press than the latest offering from your regional theatre company. Why? Is it the funny spelling? T-h-e-a-t-R-E instead of T-h-e-a-t-E-R? You want to spell it the other way, fine with me.

In live theatre, you get drama or comedy. Sometimes both mixed together. Shows set in modern day or the past. Music. Sex. Violence. All the same stuff you can get in a film.

And in a play, story is everything. It’s not about the star or the special effects. You can’t always say that about a movie.

And yet, live theatre attendance suffers; on stage, in the audience and behind the scenes. Local theatre groups struggle to find actors to fill the roles in the few plays they can afford to produce and people to help produce them.

Things look bleak for live theatre; has looked awful for years.

And yet, maybe. Just maybe, things are looking up.

For all the shiny packaging – 3D, super-charged CGI, big, good-looking stars and ready-to-film book franchises – people are complaining more and more about the movie theater experience. Ticket prices continue to go up, not to mention concessions. People grouse that the 3-D experience usually doesn’t give you your money’s worth. And people are pushing back.

Maybe movies aren’t quite the must-go destination they used to be.

An AP article I read last week reported that domestic movie revenue the first two weekends in December was the lowest since 2008; $81 million the first weekend and only $77 million the second weekend.

The two weekends after 9/11 had been the worst weekends for ticket sales on record, but even then, 2.5 million more people went to the movies in the US than did so the first two weekends of December this year.

The article went on to say movie revenue in 2011 so far tops out at $9.57 billion, down four percent for the year over 2010, but a seventeen percent drop for the same period in December 2010.

So does this mean the movies are dead? Of course not. It’s obvious why people didn’t go to the movies after 9/11. And clearly, economic turmoil is at least partly to blame for slow sales everywhere. There is a definite trend brewing.

Couldn’t some of that slowdown simply be because people aren’t getting their money’s worth at the box office? There aren’t many of these pricey 3D movies that I’ve seen good reviews for.  Lame sequels and formulaic re-treads just make things worse.

Is there a chance for live theatre to take advantage? Yes. Outside of Broadway, lots of good theatre is cheaper, or at least competitive, with movie tickets.

With blu-ray, huge flat-screens, and even 3-D television systems, people can simulate much of the technical feel of the movie going experience at home. But, of course, there’s more to going to the movies that the gee-whiz on the screen. There’s the joy of sharing story time with your fellow humans. A roomful of laughter makes the funny funnier. A roomful of shock makes the fright more frightening. You can’t get that watching TV alone at home. People will pay for that experience. And if they aren’t finding it at the multi-plex, there’s only one other place they can go.

So listen up, community theatres and regional acting companies. This is your time. Get on Facebook and spread the word. Whenever and wherever you can pay for ads, do it. Hire a sky-writer if you must.

The show must go on. The people demand it.

At least we can hope so.


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