Hal Luftig: Theater Will Never Die

Hal Luftig is optimistic that theater will not die as an artform, even in the face of our on-demand, digital consumption.

Hal Luftig: The value added to theater – and, you know, I know this is a debate that has gone on for millions of years and hopefully will still go on for millions of years is that there is no experience like it. It’s live, you’re live, they’re live. They’re feeding off you, you’re feeding off them, you know. And an audience senses that and that is an added value and I don’t really care how technology pushes us forward. There’s never going to be anything like sitting in a theater with, like I said, a hundred or a thousand people around you laughing, crying, you know, doing all those emotional things that hopefully good theater will do for you. And my challenge and the challenge that we have as an industry is getting people to recognize that and into, you know, the theater. And, you know, the complaint that I hear – I hear too the most about theater specifically – the price and the accessibility.

The accessibility – I’m going to go backwards. The accessibility is something as an industry – I think actually technology and the theater world can marry more. There are people out there that don’t know how to get tickets or they think that getting tickets are complicated. They don’t understand you can go online now. And I think, you know, the technology in that case has helped the theater industry tremendously. I mean there was a day – and I’m not that old but there was a day that I remember the only way you could get a theater ticket was to go to the box office. And now we’ve expanded that so it is amazing to me. The idea of it being too expensive is something that, you know, is a challenge to the industry too. And to that I always say my job is to let people know there are many ways and many different prices of seeing shows. There’s the TKTS booth. There’s, you know, direct mail. There’s email blast. We’re starting to use that technology. And so I think those two obstacles when you add it together, the added value is to get the world to understand there’s no experience like live theater. There can’t be. Live streaming, HD filming, even the audience that is listening to this conversation right now – it’s not at all like if we were sitting in a room live. And that’s the excitement of live theater.

We find that the younger generation unless they have come – been brought to the theater don’t get it. It seems like their grandmother’s form of entertainment. And, you know, to that personally I have been – and most of my career have been a big advocate of getting school children into the theater. And whether that is a Wednesday matinee where you donate tickets or we have a program right now with the city school system that we choose, you know, one school every Wednesday matinee and they get, you know, a hundred tickets. Some of the schools do it on merit, some do it on financial need, you know. Each school is a little bit different. But I find – and this is one of the greatest joys that I have as a producer is watching those kids watch a show, many of them for the very first time. And you can tell which ones are hooked. You can tell because again, their sensing without any explanation they’re watching someone live. I remember once when I was producing a musical called Jelly’s Last Jam and the late Gregory Hines played Jelly Roll Morton and we took every Wednesday matinee there were a hundred inner city school kids that got to see the show.

And one Wednesday matinee a couple of kids didn’t realize, you know, they saw it was live but they didn’t know the decorum of theater and they were screaming out Gregory, go Gregory, yeah, my man. And they were just so excited. And he kind of stopped the show and he just very calmly said, you know, we are so glad you are here. It is so cool but you know what’s not cool? I’m trying to, you know, so I’ll tell you what, man. Why don’t you like – let’s do the show that’s how this works and then you guys come backstage and we can rap. And these kids were like over the moon. And it wasn’t because they were, you know, rude but they were hooked. Man, I was watching those kids – they were so hooked onto live theater and I thought this is cool. They had just never experienced that before. You know, every form of entertainment these kids had up until this point in their life was a movie, was a TV, was a video, was a, you know, something. They had never gone and had that, you know, oh my God, there’s a person up there and they happened to know who the person was. So yeah, I love when that happens and that’s a big huge added value.

When I was a kid they were saying the great white way is dead. You know, they were calling it the fabulous invalid. I don’t believe it ever will die because of that feeling, that idea that you can’t get anywhere else. And I think the younger generation – they may be slower to get there but, you know, if we do our job right we’ll get them, you know. There are those kind of hip, cool shows where it’s cool to go and they go wow, this isn’t so bad, you know. Yeah, that’s how you kind of get them.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

Hal Luftig is optimistic that theater will not die as an artform, even in the face of our on-demand, digital consumption. Children, he says, are slow adopters, but will ultimately be won over if exposed to the stage. Luftig is a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer. His latest is Kinky Boots.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Ashamed over my mental illness, I realized drawing might help me – and others – cope

Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.

Keep reading Show less

Sexual activity linked to higher cognitive function in older age

A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.

Image by Lightspring on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
  • The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
  • The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Keep reading Show less

What the world will look like in the year 250,002,018

This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now

On Pangaea Proxima, Lagos will be north of New York, and Cape Town close to Mexico City
Surprising Science

To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.

Keep reading Show less

Scientists are studying your Twitter slang to help AI

Mathematicians studied 100 billion tweets to help computer algorithms better understand our colloquial digital communication.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • A group of mathematicians from the University of Vermont used Twitter to examine how young people intentionally stretch out words in text for digital communication.
  • Analyzing the language in roughly 100 billion tweets generated over eight years, the team developed two measurements to assess patterns in the tweets: balance and stretch.
  • The words people stretch are not arbitrary but rather have patterned distributions such as what part of the word is stretched or how much it stretches out.
Keep reading Show less