As business, career or hobby, theater enthusiasts cite live art as ‘incomparable’

For the CDTDecember 25, 2013 

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Pig Pen, portrayed by Michael Tews, takes a look at himself in the mirror during the Fuse Productions presentation of Charles Schulz’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Saturday at The State Theatre. As the technology age expands entertainment options, local experts say theater will remain a tried and true art due to the attraction of live performances.

ABBY DREY — CDT photo Buy Photo

— With the technology age in full swing and entertainment often instantaneous, is local theater in jeopardy?

Richard Biever, artistic director at The State Theatre, said that while the theater may be up against more competition, the experience of seeing a performance live is incomparable.

“There’s no substitute for live theater,” he said. “Right now, theater is thriving more than it ever has.”

Biever said that while there are many theater organizations in State College, it’s not so much that they are competing with each other but that they are competing with other, fast, cheap entertainment.

While some may turn to other amusements, he said, a bigger issue for keeping an audience is finding what people want to see and making it available.

David Gritzner, executive director of the State College Community Theatre, said the company traditionally has been a summer theater, but in the last couple of years it has been expanding.

“There are obviously people here year-round, and they’re interested in seeing theater not just in the summer months,” Gritzner said.

While most theater companies see a decline in revenue when the economy struggles, he said, there will always be an audience willing to pay for a show.

“People enjoy being able to splurge every once and a while,” Gritzner said. “I think theater is a vital component of any community. I think that people enjoy theater, and I don’t see that changing.”

His company has been around for 55 years, he said, and while there are other theater groups and other entertainment options, he is confident it will be around for 55 more.

Dan Carter, director of the School of Theatre at Penn State, said that while theater doesn’t have the monopoly it once did, there are still people who love it.

“There’s no question that it’s popular here [in State College],” he said. “If there’s one thing we know about the theater, it’s that there’s always going to be people who want to see it.”

Carter said theater traditionally struggles — and the School of Theatre is no exception. He said there is always the problem of trying to stay afloat, but also keeping down ticket prices so theater is available to everyone.

“If a theater isn’t struggling, that would be news. It is the nature of the theater to be on the edge because of the economics of the situation,” he said.

While individual organizations may be having a tough time financially, theater as a whole is still healthy, Carter said.

He pointed out that last year, of the Penn State students who graduated from the theater program with a degree in stage management, design and technology or musical theater, 87 percent had jobs within two weeks of graduation.

Carter called that an “unheard-of” statistic, proving just how well theater is doing.

Biever said he thinks theater does well because it is important to people emotionally.

Seeing an actor live who is going through something the audience can connect with helps people because it shows someone struggling in the same way they might be, Biever said.

Theater, he said, “holds a mirror to society –– good, bad or indifferent. Theater helps us cope with our own problems.”

Emily Chappell is a Penn State journalism student.

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