Theatre of the Future Gives Me Ulcers

I happened upon the YouTube video below by Imagination Stage. I surmised that it was part of a contest of sorts held by Theatre Communications Group for organizations to make a video about the future because it is organized in the TCG YouTube account and most of the videos seem to deal with the future of theatre. Also, I have a vague recollection about the contest being listed somewhere.

At first I was a little depressed by the world they portrayed. Then I realized they probably have a pretty accurate view of how things will be. The opening where the girl is getting poor grades, most likely because she is involved in theatre, is actually pretty comforting because it show that some things won’t change.

At first I was a little put off by the idea that she was learning acting from a hologram, especially given that the hologram was pretty over the top. Of course, I figured holograms and virtual reality would be part of the future of theatre back when I started the blog. On the whole, I thought the video was well done and the details of the user interface they portrayed was spot on.

For a moment I was also a little turned off by the idea that acting instruction was structured as a video game with levels to advance through that people would try to gain shortcut cheats through.

Then I thought, we should be so lucky to have people that invested!

I was also heartened by the fact the young woman in the video wouldn’t even consider giving her friend a shortcut hint. There are no shortcuts to hard work, after all.

What disturbed me the most though was the concept that a production would be subject to the caprice of whether talented people chose to log in or not and doing so at the last minute. The video shows the young woman manifesting in a theatre and the director saying they hoped she would log on, tossing out an auditioner who was less qualified for some reason. I assumed she hadn’t obtained enough points/levels. Then the young woman rehearses as a hologram opposite live people and performs as Juliet at the opening the next night.

As I acknowledged though, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. If audiences are waiting until the last moment to buy tickets, could not artists delay the decision about which production they wanted to be involved with until the last minute? If performers have the ability to manifest themselves as holograms in 2028, opportunities become available across the entire country and perhaps the world.

As long as there are more actors than roles, then there will always be competition. But then competition for elite performers also becomes extreme. Get great reviews for your performance as King Lear in Madison, WI one night, you could receive an offer to play Lear in Hong Kong the next night and actually be able to do it. What worries me is the ulcer inducing environment this will create for arts managers.

But damn, wouldn’t bring a real sense of excitement and unpredictability to the arts. The most notable companies won’t be those who can maintain a stable cast, it will be those who can produce a consistently high quality product regardless of the vagaries of the cast.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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