A Dying Art, By Artistic Director, Christian Lebano

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“This is the best show I have ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot,” Third Grader from Sierra Madre Elementary School at a student matinee of A Wrinkle in Time.

We opened Wrinkle and have started our run of matinee performances for local students. I attended a performance the other morning and was so happy to see how excited – no, ecstatically, the students were responding to what we had created. In this time of amped-up on-line media, the fact that these young patrons could get excited by a show that demands that they use their imaginations filled me with hope for the future of the art form.

And then I saw the recently announced Federal budget proposed by the President. It calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. We have never received grants from either agency – we haven’t even applied, though with our recent achievements and new prestige it was definitely in our plans.

This news made me very sad. Sad, because it speaks to a lack of appreciation in our culture for the Arts and our cultural patrimony. Every other developed country supports their arts organizations to a greater extent than we do as Americans. I don’t understand how this neglect and contempt came about. Study after study speaks to the value that the Arts bring to children – how quickly they learn lessons when they are taught through the arts, how test scores go up when an enriched arts curriculum is part of their education, the positive effects it has youth socially. There are many studies that prove that theaters and other arts institutions bring economic advantages to their communities, as well, but I don’t want to rely on the dollar value to make my argument.

What constantly surprises me is that the great trove of dramatic literature that America has created is so rarely seen – we have classic plays to rival anything the Europeans or anyone in the world has written. There are very few theaters doing them, however. I wonder if that is because there is so little exposure to these wonderful plays. Plays read are not the same as plays seen. A text for a play was meant to be performed in front of a group of people. Or is it simply because we have not had enough exposure?

I created the Field Trip Series to bring theater to young people and convinced the Board to support it. But even though each of the last four plays in the series has been wonderful – we have had low attendance from families. What I thought would be a slam-dunk – providing quality theater for young people once a year has proven to be a money-loser for SMP.

And that brings me back to the proposed elimination of the two agencies through which our government, our people, support the arts – to the tune of $1 from every person in the country and the fact that it can be so easily gotten rid of. Having tried to get grants from various sources, I know how hard it is and how much competition there is for the small pot of money. I am despairing a bit today.

We have worked so hard over the last few years to make Sierra Madre Playhouse a theater that the local community can be proud of. I’m wondering if we are trying to provide something for which there isn’t a demand? And then I think of that kid and I know that I’m wrong. Now I just have to convince everyone else.

The Belle of Amherst opens this weekend and will run in rotating repertory with A Wrinkle in Time until April 23. I look forward to seeing you and the young people in your life (Wrinkle will truly captivate them) in the audiences. For tickets please call Mary in the box office at 626.355.4318 or go to SierraMadrePlayhouse.org. Hope to see you soon!