Home Arts & Lit Is theatre becoming all about the money?

Is theatre becoming all about the money?


Victoria Bishop discusses whether using celebrity actors has made theatre all about the profit.

There is an undisputed dependence on hiring famous celebrities to front theatre performances. Mainstream venues know that a famous actor will undoubtedly ensure ticket sales. People aren’t coming to see the play but rather the famous stars within it.

Does this devalue the quality of theatre? Undoubtedly.

But, unfortunately in our economic climate it’s unlikely to be trend to disappear, certainly with the heavy cuts to funding. Theatre needs financial security and hiring a big star always brings in a fast-flowing revenue stream.

Theater Mike Nichols
Daniel Craig and Rachael Weisz, starring in Betrayal
Image credit: The Guardian

Theatres, nowadays, rely on big names to secure their survival over the year. One big budget production with a famous cast is likely to ensure enough revenue to tide the venue over all year. With these figures, it’s unsurprising that reputable institutions on Broadway and in the West End rely on this mechanism year in year out.

However, this continuous dependence on money is undermining the quality of theatre and preventing budding actors, with a relatively small celebrity status – if any, from being cast in the role. Despite sometimes being better suited for it. But for many organisations that simply isn’t worth the risk. Championing famous celebrities over relatively unheard of actors for leading roles is further fueling theatres dependence on money and seeming disinterest in the quality and substance of the production.

Rupert Grint in Mojo Image credit: Mojotheplay.com
Rupert Grint in Mojo
Image credit: Mojotheplay.com

Betrayal is certainly an example of this. Despite receiving mixed reviews, Betrayal was an absolute sell-out with some tickets priced just shy of two hundred and fifty pounds! Clearly the question remains, given these considerations, did the audience flock to see Betrayal for its artistic merit or did they simply go and see it to see Daniel Craig in the flesh? That and his on-stage wife , Rachael Weisz who just happens to be his wife in real life. Forgive my cynicism, but the latter seems more likely.

With these suppositions it is difficult to validate any production that uses famous celebrities as a means to attract audiences. However, in some cases, a famous cast can create exposure to a play or style that audiences wouldn’t normally go and see. So with this accessibility in mind, famous faces can be a good thing.

Well, that’s if the performance is good enough.

Mojo, a black comedy written by Jez Butterworth, is strong example of how casting famous actors can accentuate the quality of the performance. The performance was critically acclaimed thereby suggesting that the presence of famous actors in the cast doesn’t always impede the quality of the performance.

Like many arts institutions, theatre has been commercialised to ensure survival. The balance between financial security and artistic quality has been lost and instead of innovative works being presented in mainstream venues they are being shuttered out behind the veil of West End triviality. Hiring famous actors is just another method of getting bums on seats. It cheapens the quality of the performance before it’s even started because you have to ask; were they hired for their theatrical talent or because they’re an ‘A-lister’?


Victoria Bishop

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