Arts accessibility comes at what cost to the artists?

Posted 10/14/20

A few weeks ago, my neighbor woke up to frantic knocking on her door.

I’m standing there with a pack of arrows in my hand.

“Can I borrow your houseplants for a few hours?” I ask her. …

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Arts accessibility comes at what cost to the artists?

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A few weeks ago, my neighbor woke up to frantic knocking on her door.

I’m standing there with a pack of arrows in my hand.

“Can I borrow your houseplants for a few hours?” I ask her. “My play is supposed to take place in early Amazon times, so I need to hide the electrical outlets.”

This encounter isn’t as bizarre as it sounds, considering I’ve recorded a radio play in my closet and filmed another scene on my porch. Although I consider theater my longtime hobby, this was the first year that I performed from my house. The shift to virtual events allowed me to act with theaters across North Carolina, and I am so grateful for these new connections.

At the same time, I’ve watched staged readings from my favorite TV show casts, seen the “Hamilton” Disney premiere and envied Meryl Streep and Audra McDonald’s living rooms during their Stephen Sondheim tribute. I imagine how these all can pave the way for widespread access to top-tier performances. I also wonder how many small theaters are facing permanent closures.

Attending the theater has often carried elitist connotations. That still remains true on Broadway, where the average ticket is upwards of $100. However, this sentiment ignores the theaters, museums and galleries that bring affordable shows to local communities. The latter survive via local support, as well as through programs like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Now, many local arts organizations are struggling to keep their doors open and the NEA faces the chopping block in next year’s federal budget.

I remember when my middle school created its first after-school theater program, only to watch the district slash it within the same year. I keep wondering if those kids still enjoy the arts or if we missed the window to engage them. This year, school systems may finally realize how crucial arts programs are to children who don’t want to play sports.

I think about the kids and teens rehearsing their shows on Zoom, and the adult performers making a living off of staged readings. We as audiences have greater access to the arts, but at what cost to the artists?

Next weekend, I look forward to seeing the drive-in musical orchestrated by the Pittsboro Youth Theater and Center for the Arts. This is just one example of how theaters across the country are engaging audiences during a pandemic. I hope that you will support the local performing arts community so that our young actors and actresses can continue to thrive. And remember that for every Broadway show, there is a local one that needs your support.

Rachel Horowitz resides in Chatham County and works in Pittsboro. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.


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