Real men don’t like showtunes. Broadway producers are desperate to find ways to get guys into the seats. Only 32 percent of Broadway theatre goers were men last year. The interesting problem is that shows still need men in the audience to be profitable. According to Mr. Healy’s article, the Producers for the musical version of the Bridges of Madison County needed to take out emergency loans to keep the show running. Men are unable to put up with musicals for two or so hours to please their wives, girlfriends, and daughters. One insurance executive refused to see Mary Poppins with his wife and three daughters according to the article.
The question is whether we should care about men not going to theatre or not and in many ways, this is like the question about whether we should care about whether art institutions fail or not or whether the local library fails or not. In the grand scheme of things, people have a right to spend their free time and money as they please. There is a theory that producers should stop caring about attracting male audience members and make theatre largely about women. I am going to try and answer why this is a big deal anyway and we should want more gender equality.
My Theatre Background
I seem to be a minority among guys because I am heterosexual and love going to theatre. My major in undergrad was in drama and I have graduate degree in directing. This was before discovering the rough economics of being a theatre artist. The old joke is true: The best way to make a small fortune in theatre is to start with a large one.
Broadway is largely not for me. There are plays on Broadway that I really enjoyed but they tend to be limited run prestige productions like a production of The Seagull with Kristen Scott Thomas or the Pillow Man with Billy Crudup. I am not a fan of most musicals except some classics like Cabaret, Guys & Dolls, Chicago, West Wide Story, or Brecht musicals like The Threepenny Opera.
My tastes tend towards straight plays and I am more comfortable with the off-Broadway and off-off Broadway world. What I love about downtown theatre is often they tell more daring plays and necessity is often the mother of invention. Broadway are Hollywood Blockbusters. Off-Broadway is indie film. There is something amazing about seeing actors turn a small blank space into Elsinore, The Forrest of Arden, A Tropical Rainforest, etc. and having the audience believe it. The most famous stage direction in all of Shakespeare and possibly the world is “Exit pursued by Bear” from The Winter’s Tale. There are justifications for making this funny, scary, or both because of the themes of the play. Anyone can imagine the big-budget solution for this stage direction. I am much more interested in the low-budget way of making it sincerely scary or both funny and scary.
So Broadway doesn’t even know how to attract theatre loving guys like me for the most part.
Theatre and Masculinity
The biggest take-away I took from the Times’ article is that many men seem to think their masculinity will be threatened if they attend a Broadway. One interviewee wouldn’t attend Mary Poppins with his wife and three daughters. Mary Poppins is not my cup of tea but I think I could be pleasant and charming for two or so hours if it made my family happy.
Producers are trying to respond by producing musical versions of Rocky and Spider-Man. This tactic is not working. Rocky was a hit in Germany but is barely breaking even on Broadway. I am personally not interested in a musical version of Rocky because I can watch it on DVD if I wanted to. I am not against adaptations. Many great Broadway musicals are adaptations. Guys & Dolls was adapted from Damon Runyan short stories. Cabaret was adopted from Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories.
I think this is one of the next steps in the gender equality wars. Making men feel more comfortable in pursuing activities that are seen as feminine for whatever reason. I don’t think of theatre as being feminine. There is nothing feminine about Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, and many other playwrights. Musicals do have a reputation for being feminine though. My girlfriend loves musicals and she is also semi-serious when she tells me she is glad that I don’t like them very much except the ones listed above which are appropriately masculine or heterosexual. Men seem great at encouraging their daughters into sports and science and engineering. We don’t seem comfortable with the idea of a young boy being more into theatre and/or art than baseball and videogames though. I am curious to hear from the parents on this issue.
We need to care about men feeling uneasy about seeing Broadway shows because it is a stumbling block (but a minor one) in the road to gender equality. I’ve gone to theatre with LeeEsq and our father including musicals like Sunday in the Park with George and a horrible production of The Threepenny Opera (aka How to declaw Brecht.) I’ve seen theatre with other heterosexual guy friends but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
My odd-man out status makes it hard for me to answer these questions. I’ve never cared much about sports especially the more violent ones like boxing, MMA, Wrestling, etc. I rarely play video games. Yet at the same time, I would not describe myself as feminine. I am a guy and like being a guy. I’ve never felt less than masculine for being interested in art, literature, theatre, opera, ballet, modern dance, etc. Are there people who would consider me feminine for liking such things? Probably. Do I care about them? Not at all.
I would also like to hear from guys on this issue. Were you brought up to think of art and theatre as being feminine? If yes, how was this idea transmitted to you? Would you feel more comfortable with a daughter who liked MMA and hunting over a son who liked theatre and opera? These questions probably sound more inquisitional than I want but they are serious issues. There does seem to be a tendency for allowing boys to explore their feminine side but it seems very mom driven. I usually see it manifest in facebook posts about letting a boy dress as a Disney Princess for Halloween or some such event. I think it is more shocking when the alleged gender transgression is more subtle. The boy who loves art, hates sport, but still prefers to dress in jeans and such. I don’t know how to prove this but it is a hunch.
I think true gender neutrality will come when two guys decide to go to a play instead of a action movie or sports and don’t feel threatened or bad about this choice. I am willing to entertain theories that I am wrong on this though.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I will probably never be a Broadway Producer. I am not the kind of guy to think Rocky The Musical is a good idea. I’d much rather produce an opera or opera-esque adaptation of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Musicals will always skew more towards women. The guy who wouldn’t see Mary Poppins with his daughters strikes me as being more of a jerk than anything else. I probably would dislike the production as much as he would but if my hypothetical children really wanted to see it, I would take them and not be grumpy about it.
My general solution to Broadway would be less revivals, more plays, more risks like Avenue Q and Urinetown, and imports from London. However, I probably belong at the New York Theatre Workshop or The Public or Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Can anyone think of any other reasons why Broadway became a gendered form of entertainment?