A season designed to get butts in seats

An easy way to gauge the economy requires simply looking at a theater’s line-up. Theaters known for taking risks will offer slightly more trustworthy fare. Theaters known for offering pure entertainment return to their sure-fire favorites.

Take the Hennepin Theatre Trust season, for example (Hennepin Theatre Trust is the entity that runs the State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters in Minneapolis). “Mary Poppins,” “101 Dalmations”, “Wizard of Oz,” “Cats,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Dreamgirls,” and “Young Frankenstein” are all on the bill. Many of these shows have performed in the Twin Cities before, and many are guaranteed to have kids pulling at their parents’ pocketbooks (Note: Dirty Dancing was originally part of this line-up, but has cancelled its tour).

Probably the least well-known production is “In The Heights,” which won four Tony Awards last year. The most controversial play is likely to be Avenue Q (featuring at least one porn-loving puppet), but since it’s been running on Broadway ever since it opened in July of 2003, it’s a pretty safe bet.

So what’s lost when a theater plays it REALLY safe? In the short-term, not much. Audiences still see a fun show, and the theater comes closer to paying its bills. In the grander scheme of things, what’s lost is what’s new. New plays are less likely to get a staging, in favor of known entities. There will be less challenging theater out there, which is the kind that really gets people thinking, and often provokes the strongest emotional reactions.

Some theaters will insist on continuing their mission to present new work, and stage productions that will likely only bring in half a house. But by doing so they knowingly risk their financial security for the sake of doing work they believe in.