Friday, February 01, 2008

Chris Brown

In my ongoing – and unsuccessful – bid to stay even marginally hip, I took my teenage daughter and a pal to the Chris Brown concert this past Tuesday. For those who may not know him, this 18 year old Virginia native is a quadruple threat, it turns out. He’s an incredibly athletic and entertaining dancer – capping off the concert with a series of handsprings across the stage – in addition to a great singer, a pretty good actor, and – as my daughter would say – a smokin’ hot hunk of eye-candy.

The concert was a good indication of what youngsters, at least – and I think audiences in general – have come to expect in terms of production values. Sure, the tickets were not cheap. But for twice what it would cost to see a show at the Barksdale, for instance, here’s what you got with CB:
  • a surprisingly exciting 5-minute animated movie featuring Mr. Brown as a Batman-like superhero,

  • two extended “dance offs” featuring a crew of hot and talented performers (plus two pint-size boys who were crowd faves),

  • significant amounts of fireworks and flashpots, lasers and other wild lighting,

  • projected “co-stars” including T-Pain and Rihanna,

  • two little theatrical vignettes performed in the context of songs that were pretty well done,

  • a two-song interlude performed on a rotating hydraulic stage near the back of the Coliseum (which thanks to our seats, put us in the very first row for those two songs and nearly sent all of the women around me into cardiac arrest),

  • performance of some top pop hits, including CB’s “Kiss Kiss,” “Run It,” and “With You,” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella.”
And all of that doesn’t even include the two opening acts, Soulja Boy (of ‘Crank Dat’ fame) and Bow Wow, who each had their own interesting (if less appealing to me) sets.

All in all, it was 3 ½ hours of pretty exceptional entertainment and I came away feeling like I totally got my money’s worth. Maybe it’s not fair to compare a huge concert to a stage show. But I know there are plenty of entertainment consumers out there who do some cost / entertainment value analysis when they are considering what to do with their time and money. And based on what I saw Tuesday, theater is going to have be pretty innovative to compete for that younger audience.


JB said...

you are so hip

JB said...

And - is it Mary's Birthday? Happy Birthday Mary - Hope it is great!!

Andrew Hamm said...

WOW do I take issue with your last paragraph, my brother! Insisting on competition with big-budget spectacle is DEATH for theatre, and it's most of why I haven't seen a Broadway show in a decade.

Theatre is not concerts, it is not movies, it is not television. The things that make a big-budget spectacle engaging are NOT the same things that make a black box production of The Cherry Orchard engaging. But perhaps we'd attract more audience to Chekhov if we blew up the orchard at the end of the play instead of just having the sound of an axe.

You want affecting stage spectacle? Check out the GASPS in the audience at The Spanish Tragedy when Frank Creasy bites his own tongue out rather than testify against himself. Fake blood and tongue: $3.00. Stage moment I will NEVER forget: priceless.

Frank Creasy said...

Andrew - shut up. Just shut up. You had me at "blew up the orchard." That was classic!

But, Dave, it's pretty hard to compete with Chris Brown and Usher and the like if we're going to throw down that gauntlet. I agree, it's not a fair comparison at all, and it's going to take productions and educational programs such as SPARC and Theatre IV and the events Richmond Shakespeare does regularly to help young people learn why they can enjoy and engage in theatre just as much as hip-hop concerts. Why must it always be "either/or"? I just don't see that one must be enjoyed to the exclusion of the other. Dear God, let's hope not.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Thank you, Andrew.

Although, there are some great places for spectacle in theatre (and many really great kinetic imaging moments in Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter), even among the spectacle, if you have a stage full of artists that are not committed, talented, skilled, etc. it's still not gonna work. Would Cher or Janet Jackson still sell out their shows if they weren't dynamic performers? Perhaps not. Would Chris Brown if he weren't dynamic, talented, and skilled? Hmmm...probably not.

I feel (and maybe I'm alone in this) that someone that was once such a dynamic, strong supporter of theatre is starting to slip away. Is that just my imagination; the current mind set; or perhaps...I dunno? Dave? Thoughts?

Dave T said...

Wow -- there's nothing like a quick and vociferous response!

You all might note that in my post I concede that "Maybe it’s not fair to compare a huge concert to a stage show." And maybe it isn't. But I ask you to consider for a moment the perspective from which I am writing. I'm not young or single or childless. I don't have conspicuous amounts of disposable income. For my wife and I to go out involves jumping through various logistical hoops and/or paying through the nose to secure babysitting. By the time we're done paying for dinner and babysitting, we're already out some $70-80. Tickets to the Barksdale are $35 (Richmond Shakespeare a little more moderate at $20). So a full night out including theater (when I'm not getting comps) involves a minimum of about $100 up to something like $150. As a consumer, I want something that is worth spending that amount of money on.

I'm not saying all theater should be "Phantom of the Opera" -- I tend to despise spectacle shows -- my faves tend to be small-cast, small-budget intensely emotional shows. The point of my post was not to encourage spectacle but to point out something about the marketplace for entertainment out there. I agree Andrew that theater is not concerts or movies or television. But denying what the competition is out there is like sticking your head in the sand. If you want to do better against the competition, you must face it.

You might also note that in my post I said theater is going to have to be "innovative." Not bigger, not more spectacular, not gaudier or fancier. Theater cannot compete on many levels with concerts, movies or television -- but figuring out where it can compete and how is absolutely essential for theater's long-term health and well-being. Or audiences will continue to opt for the cheaper, the splashier, or the more convenient options.

BC, I am a long-term and passionate supporter of theater. That has not changed. I'm one of those people who keep telling people how great the theater scene is here. But I've also watched over the past 16 years in Richmond as the theater scene has continued to shrink. I want theater to succeed here and I don't think that's going to happen if people are entrenched in their protestations that you can't compare theater with other entertainment. I think people who say that are in denial: Consumers are making that comparison every day.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Vociferous? Really?

Hardly what I would call my comment.

I've just noted that your recent writings on the blog and in print do not seem to so much supportive anymore.

It really more of a plea to find that supporter that used to exist that doesn't seem to anymore.

I know that I'm not the only one that's wondering what's happened with the change in attitude.

I agree with a lot of what you say, but the way that it's presented is (IN MY OPINION) not coming across as supportive or in a way that is going to effect change.

Vociferous? Wow. OK. I really don't even know if I I don't know how to reply to that really.

Perhaps I'll just step out of the way and let it be. (Such a comment often seems to inspire at least two or three in support of that decision, which is always fun, so I'll look forward to those.)


Thespis' Little Helper said...

I'm tired of blogging.

You. Me. Behind the bleachers. After school.

Bring it.

Anonymous said...

Do we make the mistake by not pointing out that there are things that theatre does that film, tv and Chris Brown conversely cannot compete with? How do we sell the fact that in our ever evolving world of fast, faster, fastester (as a stupid Insight commercial out here touts) that theatre can slow down the world? Of course Chris Brown is competition, albeit will anyone remember Chris Brown in 300 years? Probably not, but that is another argument...Andrew, as an artistic director (and producer) I've got to tell you that in the scheme of things, your opinion doesn't really matter because you cannot conceive of theatre from the point of view of the general audience (neither can I for that matter). David Leong and I used to talk about this...wouldn't it be great to be able to go to a show and just be an audience and not be a theatre person while you are at the show?

I am constantly surprised by what are audience will or will not respond to here. For instance, She Loves Me, our holiday musical, didn't even make its single ticket goal, much less was not the "hit" we were hoping it was going to be...however, with Boston Marriage, the phones have been ringing off the hook...who knew?

I think the great thing about technology is that it is becoming more cheaper. At the beginning of film, what did they do? They stole everything from the that technology is getting cheaper and easier, we can begin to steal back and use those techniques to enhance and illuminate (and yes, why not some spectacle) the theatre going experience in new and exciting ways. Shakespeare's audience was an audience used to listening, our audience is an audience used to the 21st century, we process information differently, it is simple as that. I have just directed a Romeo and Juliet essentially on a bare stage and a multimedia Hamlet with projections, live video (the Mousetrap was a film Hamlet made) and all kinds of gadgets...and I probably enjoyed the Hamlet more because it gave me a greater pallete to work from as a director.

But like it or not, everything is competition...when students complain about ticket prices to the theatre while simultaneously dropping $55 to go to a Linkin Park concert (which is happening at Rupp Arena here in town in a few weeks), we need to ask ourselves what can we do to engender that type of response to our product (i hate that word). The head of our United Arts Fund here in town is right when he says people look for reasons NOT to give you money. We would all do well to remember that...

I's what I do...


Dave T said...

Bring what? A quiche? My laptop? The mysterious 'it' that Hurley referred to on 'Lost' last night?

'Vociferous' was more in response to Andrew and was perhaps a bit much (though comments including 'death' in all caps and that mention explosives certainly tend to get one's attention...if not mine, then Homeland Security's...)

"It really more of a plea to find that supporter that used to exist that doesn't seem to anymore...I know that I'm not the only one that's wondering what's happened with the change in attitude."

Interesting comments, BC. Maybe I should be flattered that people -- at least two? -- are talking about me? Anyway, my perspective is that a supporter has to be like a coach or even a parent. I think a supporter sometimes says "Great job! You are AWESOME!" and sometimes says "Get your ass in gear!" Perhaps I'm in more in the "get-yer-ass-in-gear" mode these days.

Anyway, I'll see you behind the bleachers. I'll bring snacks and maybe a girl to make out with (since that's all I've ever done behind the bleachers before...)

Anonymous said...

I'll take Billy Dye's Richmond Boys Choir any day over Chris Brown. Free performances and heart-stirring entertainment for children of all ages.

There is a time and place for everything. Children should be introduced to spectacle, Shakespeare, musicals, film, TV. I imagine we all were when we were kids...the theatre called to us the most and it will continue to call to others. Let the ones who want to stay w/Chris Brown stay there. There's enough entertainment to go around. Unfortunately we'll all have to continue to fight for the funding budgets. Peace.

Anonymous said...

This is your wife. As you may remember, just a few hours ago I took you to task for comparing a Chris Brown concert to the theater and implying that the two are in direct competition. I do not agree! And I’m going to try to tell you (and your readers!) why.

Great theater can very quietly send you home with tiny gleaming ideas about love, life, death, family, the future. I have sometimes been distracted for weeks after seeing a show, as the characters practically take up residence in my mind and continue with their dialogue. A great rock concert can work its magic in almost the opposite way, using big-budget flashiness and even sheer volume to inspire, energize and just WOW you.

I do think there are things that one art form can sometimes “borrow” from another, and I am always amazed to see how artists continually update and re-create themselves. BUT, I worry that if we take something that worked in one context (flashy lighting, for example) and try to plug it into another, we lose a lot more than we gain. If, for example, a black box production tried to become a Chris Brown concert, I believe the end result would be a muddled mess that didn’t accomplish much of anything.

I do think it’s a terrible shame that fewer younger people are attending the theater. But I don’t think the solution lies in having actors play their scenes on rotating hydraulic platforms! Do I have another solution? Heck no. But I think the problem has been caused by cultural, media and entertainment-related shifts over the past decade or so, and I don’t think theater alone can effectively solve it.

I think it’s great to have a venue like this one to debate, discuss and maybe decipher the issues. I think it’s especially great when the venue’s host remembers his roots as a lover of theater – as someone who, quite simply, has had his life changed by good theater. And not just because he met his wife backstage.

So. Yeah. Maybe a little more down-home, grass-roots supporting, and a little less point-counterpoint intellectualizing would be good. What do you say, honey?

With love from your faithful reader and wife,
:-) Holly

hoosier steve said...

While we do borrow from the richer mediums, the "flash lights" as Holly put it so well. We do not have to use the tools in the same way. Theatre IV has invested in some wonderful lighting equipment over the years, much of which came from the rock and roll universe. However it is rarely if ever used in the same way. Theatre has always been great at adapting. We use our expertise and our creativity to do a lot more with a lot less than our richer entertainment outlets. Back in the hey day of Theatre Gym, we were most proud of the shows that were done for next to nothing. Both because it promised a bigger pay out, but also there was a pride in the fact that we could make wonderful theatre for next to nothing. As I recall SuBurbia cost like $2 to build.
I do think though that in one sense we are in competition with the Chris Browns of the world. People have a limited amount of time and dollar to spend on entertainment. One of the many things though that we as theatre have over the rest is that we offer more than entertainment, we offer a cultural experience that is potentially much more profound and moving than a rock concert or movie could ever be.

Frank Creasy said...

Holly - wow! Now THAT was a great comment.

For all of us so entrenched in the theatre, it is often a challenge to put ourselves back in the position of the typical theatre goer who simply LOVES the theatre without dissecting it. I know I'm seeing a great production when I forget about analyzing the actor's or director's choices ("Why did he say the line that way"? "Why did he block the scene like that"?), and simply become engrossed in the story and the performances. "Drawer Boy", "I Am My Own Wife", "Spinning Into Butter" and "Henry IV Part I" spring to mind, for a few recent examples.

I guess my point - and hopefully in agreement with Holly - is that losing ourselves in our love of a beautifully produced theatrical event moves us in a very different, yet very substantial way from a Chris Brown or a Linkin Park concert spectacle. I remember the productions I mentioned above as vividly as many of the greatest concerts I've seen, and they've touched my spirit, I believe, in far more meaningful - more HUMAN ways - than the concerts.

Great dialogue here. I love it.

Dave, good job in generating this discussion. And while I've not met Holly, seems to me you are one lucky dude.