According to Ravenhill, the policies of Maggie Thatcher changed all that. It was, she maintained, all a matter of supply and demand. All that was needed was for you to first identify your audience, then work out what it was this audience were wanting. After which you merely had to sell yourself to them as a company capable, ready and willing to supply it. So they did. And it worked, to such an extent that they now have loyal audiences which turn up regularly. And particularly so at the moment, thanks to the credit crunch (sic)! Those punters who are still in work have £25 or so to spare each week, thanks to lower mortgage repayments, and they are willing to spend this on theatre tickets. (I must say here that this does not seem to quite accord with other analyses I have come across, but let's go with it.)
You might think, might you not, that the market research approach would make for some degree of conservatism in the fare on offer, but not so, says Ravenhill. It has actually resulted in an increase in the number of new plays. However, there is a downside, and it is here that he seems to me to be arguing against his own optimism: apparently, the adoption of the Thatcher approach led to an increased dependence on sponsorship and grants - and it is these, that given the new financial situation, are likely not to be forthcoming in the immediate future. He doesn't explain the mechanism by which it came about that Thatcherite policies led to this increased dependence upon handouts, and I find it hard to see what it might have been. At any rate, it would not seem possible for the theatres to make up this shortfall. Seats are already expensive and, for the main part, filled. He did not propose a way out of the dilemma, but remains optimistic in that he looks forward to what is to come.
I did wonder, reading the piece, whether and to what extent his Thatcherite policies could/should be extended to the other arts, the visual arts, for example. Is the policy transferable? Should Tracey Emin have researched the market a bit to find out whether indeed it was wanting an unmade bed, or might she have done better with, say, an inverted toilet?Should Tate Modern or the White Cube Gallery carry out market research to discover what the punters want? Could you imagine Picasso saying to himself: It seems this blue stuff's not shifting like it was... time to try another colour, maybe!
Could there be a New visions for old! approach in any of the arts, whereby if what you are painting, writing, composing at the moment is not selling, you should bin that style or voice, that sound or genre for something more popular? After all, artists of old, Michelangelo et al gave their patrons what they wanted (by and large) - and their work doesn't seem to have suffered as a result.
Just a thought or two to be going on with...