Rock of Ages cast
courtesy of meglet127, Flickr

From The Theatre Buff by Steven Dawson

I went to a musical last night, and I noticed a few things. Audience members were screaming things at the characters on stage, singing (rather loudly) along with the songs, and walking back and forth with no regard to fellow audience members or the actors. (And no, this wasn’t by design…a laThe Rocky Horror Show.)

Appalling, right?

Not in the least. You see, the musical was Rock of Ages. The music was 80’s (and early 90’s) hair-band rock music designed to, in the narrator’s words, “melt your face off.” The venue itself, The Filene Center at Wolf Trap, even encourages picnicking with alcohol on the lawn behind the seating area. This was no Metropolitan Opera or Kennedy Center performance with tuxedos and formal dresses.

When we arrived at Wolf Trap, we noticed tailgaters….yep, that’s right, tailgaters. As in, the activity you enjoy before concerts and sporting events. The patrons were interesting to observe, as well. Picture any typical hair band music video, and you have pictured the people there last night. It was an eclectic mix of people that included 70’s and 80’s “Rock N’ Roll children,” fans of White Snake, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Journey, etc. They wore their favorite bands’ T-shirts, jeans, and other typical clothing you might expect to see at a concert. And of course you had your less-80’s looking folks, too.

But remember, this was a musical. This was “art.” (the argument about what art is remains another topic for another day). The irreverence surrounding the whole event was refreshing.

This just further drove home the point that there is no single audience for theatre, and organizations that remain stuck in this mindset are leading themselves down a quick path to failure. If Rock of Ages can provide such a successful entry point, if you will, into theatre for the “Rock” generation, then what other engagement and new audience opportunities exist out there.

I believe we can create a new era in American theatre (or international theatre, for that matter) if we can find it in ourselves as arts managers, writers, artists, and producers to let go of the “cultural norms” in the arts and explore the fusion of  high art and popular art.

By the way, I highly recommend finding the tour of Rock of Ages and checking it out. It really did “melt my face off.”