Western Gold Theatre Company, in partnership with Theatre at UBC, presented an adaptation of Honore de Balzac’s novel Old Goriot this week, as part of Vancouver’s 2008 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Although the acting was superb and the production values pleased the audience, critics think that James Fagan Tait, the play’s director and adapter, could have PuShed the limits a bit further.
Being avant-garde, however, is not part Western Gold’s mandate.
The company casts and commissions works that address “the concerns of aging in a social and family environment … and inspire all people, young and old, to engage life to its fullest potential.”
Considering the demographic changes Canada will see in the coming years, Western Gold is cleverly targeting a growing market that offers a lot of potential. Not only do seniors have more leisure time to devote to the performing arts, many prefer to invest their money in more traditional forms of entertainment as opposed to new technology.
Being aware of who their audience is and catering to what they will enjoy will be the key to Western Gold’s success. Producing plays that are aesthetically beautiful, progressive to the point of novelty (not alienation), sentimental yet applicable, nostalgic yet inoffensive, will garner them a devoted following and tenure within Vancouver’s playhouses.
Groundbreaking works simply won’t sell seats. And the point is to sell seats, right?
Returning to my questions of who actually attends live performance art and who cares about it, a quick superficial survey of most theatre audiences will reveal a 3:1 ratio of wrinkles to rockers. Those numbers practically double when great literary works like Hamlet, Jane Eyre or Old Goriot hit the stage.
Old Goriot attracts a mixed demographic because of its UBC and PuSh affiliations, but if the same production were staged elsewhere in the city, cast entirely with professional artists, I doubt every seat would have been filled.
Don’t get me wrong: I really admire the creative work Western Gold is doing. Canada has a number of outstanding senior stage actors who are not seen often enough. Without theatre companies pressing the elderly agenda, the talents of these performers are wasted on commercials and bit-roles in CBC sitcoms.
To answer my own question: selling seats is not the point, but it’s a large part of it.
Creating progressive, challenging and arresting Canadian theatre is artistically and culturally important. But if no one is there to witness the innovations, then it’s not theatre. It’s just play.