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Old people will save ballet, opera and other performing arts.

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Based on reading throught the "Your first ballet" thread, it seems clear that all the outreach and other worthy seeming (and fundable) programs run by serious performing arts companies with a few notable exeptions don't really bring many people into the theater. Or at least not the people who are still buying tickets 10, 20 or 50 years later.

While the people who post on this board are probably not the typical balletgoer (if there is such a thing), one aspect of the experiences in the thread stood out: no one was at the theater for the first time because he or she had been reached out to by an outreach scheme.

We went to the opera because our parents went; or because our parents thought we should go; or because a friend went; or we read about it or saw something on TV or saw The Red Shoes. Or, in some cases, because we wanted to impress a young lady--and I can't imagine why there haven't been more men who have done this.

I began thinking about this while talking about the opera "Dead Man Walking" with a friend who had recently retired--she is 66, and she was extremely impressed by it. And while at the opera I made a point of seeking out two elderly ladies whose next to whom we used to sit for the matinee performances.

These ladies, both in their 80s, both of whom have been attending the opera, ballet and Detroit Symphony for over fifty years, also enjoyed "Dead Man Walking", especially the tight direction, the wonderful shifting stage sets and the big first act finale. Neither mentioned the nudity in the prologue, although there is no reason to think they were offended by it. Both are the widows for automobile executives and live in one of the Grosse Pointes, a set of exclusive and wealthy suburbs.

This was a performance that was very sparsely attended--fewer people in the audience than I can recall for a Sunday matinee the the opera in Detroit. But the ones who turned out were the same people who went to the opera many years ago, fell in love with it and have been going ever since.

Those who weren't there were the younger, hipper people, those who one would (incorrectly it seems) be a target audience for a contempory opera based on comtempory issues.

It seems that people find what they want, even if they don't know that they want it. Ballet, opera, Shakespeare--it is all there in all large cities and probably most college towns. Performing arts companies would do better by making things easier for their aged patrons to attend than by trying to convince those who really don't want to go that it isn't as bad as they might think--another way of putting this is, of course, is "dumbing down".

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Ed, yours is a very thought provoking post. I'm placing a link to it on that "Your first ballet" thread.

My first reaction is that all this "old people" saving the arts stuff is another form of passing the mantle on...the handing down from generation to generation sort of thing. It also puts me in mind of Alexandra's recent thread asking people what exposure they had to the arts as children.

Your point about making it easier for the "aged patrons" to attend is an excellent one, for even as we push back the hands of time so that people are living longer, we still could use some easier access to the performing arts venues...both physically and financially. Perhaps rather than offering a "children's membership" plan at a discounted rate with an adult ticket purchase, they ought to swap the two? ;)

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I don't think it has to be dumbed down. But I think the "older" do tend to support the arts more because they're able to.

Financially, you're probably at a better stage than at 50 than at 20 or even 30. And when you're younger, you're out traveling, you're doing so much, you're deciding what tastes you do have.

And like Shakespeare and other arts, sometimes you need to be a certain age to appreciate it and make a dedication to it.

Which is why ballets geared towards kids are nice and important as an introduction.

One of the things I found going so often and from a young age, is I've become jaded. I became too much of a critic for my own good and it took away some of the joy I had in going. I won't wait 20 years to go back, but like anything else, it's nice to take a break.

But if they gave so many discounts to the group that supports them the most, they'd lose money. I'd give the discount to the audience you would like to eventually fill your seats, so they keep coming back.

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My sister's family lives in the DC area. My nieces' paternal grandparents are professional musicians. My eldest niece (17)has developed a joy for opera and attends several each year with her dad. She has also attended Shakespeare camp and loves theater of all kinds.

My brother's family, in the NYC suburbs, have benefitted from many free tickets distributed by the major communications/entertainment behemoth that employs their mom. They tend to see rock concerts, although as very young kids they saw the Philharmonic's Young Peoples Series. Have they "outgrown" the cultural pillars that sustain the arts in our time? :confused: It is easy to see how the highly produced rock shows would be more seductive than concerts before the kids' tastes are set. I have offered to take that niece and nephew to "my" events, but their mom is unwilling to let them come to NYC alone yet. I disagree, but they're not my kids, so I ain't gonna argue. Just persist.;)

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I don't know about this. Here are just some thoughts to ponder, no answers.

I remember an interview with the late George Harrison where he stated that his parents only allowed opera and classical music in their home. Their thinking? The popular music would be taken care of by friends and the media. And, look what George grew up to be.

As a preschool teacher, I feel obligated to extend the art experiences of my students each year. While also providing something for everyones tastes, as well. As part of this effort, we listen to a vast variety of music each day while we work in class. Classical and opera head the list, but musicals, country, pop and music from around the globe balance it off, in greater moderation. Even with this, I have children each year that come in already with musical tastes--nature/nurture? Who knows. I've had 3 year olds arrive loving Italian opera--and their parents have no idea where the interest came from. I've had 4 year olds knowing all the words from several musicals. It is often because of these children that their parents go to the theater for the first time. Not the other way around. As parents of dancers, how many of us have been brought into this because our children led us here? Many, I believe.

The arts are languages unto themselves. To the child or person who understands the unique language each art form speaks, it is at the point of discovery that the communication begins and a journey ensues. Now who or what helps to establish the discovery point is not so important. What is important is that adults often fail to recognize the early interest or accept that such young children could have seemingly more sophisticated interests in addition to Powder-Puff Girls and Pokemon.

I think if we all think back as far as we can remember, we will find inklings to our artistic interests (for others, non-interest), in our childhood memories. Could it be that it all starts at conception with the gene pool even determining the audiences of the future? Too simplistic, perhaps, but as I said, no answers just some personal observations and thoughts.

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Many people considered Harrison's songs the most musically sophisticated of the Beatles' oeuvre. And remember, he was the one who took an interest in Indian music. Perhaps we should not dismiss the influence of classical music in his boyhood environment.

For those who are interested (this might be ever-so-slightly off-topic) Ira Flatow did a Talk of the Nation: Science Friday show on "Music and the Brain" on NPR. I found it fascinating.

As of this writing, the link is still active.


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