There are many very good reasons people go to the theatre, and as may very bad ones why they don’t.
The best reason to go is to be drawn into another world from the opening line to the final curtain and walk out gratified, if not transformed, a better person. This sometimes happens when a good play is well-produced.
Good reasons not to go: it costs too much, and too often the plays are trite or trash (or trashy) or (more often still) poorly played, misinterpreted. At best we’re amused.
Other reasons people go: to support the (dying) art, to be seen, to entertain, to see the latest musical, friends in the cast. It also satisfies a human need to congregate with others in one place to share a common experience, regardless of its weaknesses and flaws. We follow the story, laugh at the jokes, mourn the tragic hero, get the point, appreciate the efforts of cast and crew.
If only we could see the real thing every now and then.
Bad reasons for not going are legion, ranging from ignorance and bad experiences (or no good ones) to the nearly universal perception of theatre as passė, highbrow, sissy, frivolous, immoral, and indecent—all dating back to Ancient Rome, when Theodosius I outlawed all religions but Christianity, banned theatre outright, and excommunicated all actors for the next thousand years.
Americans in particular, settled by Puritans and evangelized by two Great Awakenings, were biased from the start. Theatre is godless.
Never mind its ancient religious roots, its centuries of church plays, its all but identical function: THINK—an audience (congregation) gathers in a theatre (church/temple/synagogue) to see and hear actors (priests) and a chorus (choir) interpret words from plays (or holy books) created by a playwright (god).
The only difference is that religion places faith in God (or gods) in hope of an afterlife, while theatre is concerned with human beings, here and now.
Another significant reason for attending theatre is to reacquaint our culture with dramatic literature—one whole leg (with poetry and prose) of the literary stool! The greatest writers of all time—2000 years of plays from the Ancient Greeks to Shakespeare (when the novel first appeared), 400 more to the Pulitzer playwrights of today have vanished from our knowledge base because we don’t go to the theatre.
Some of us still read poetry and novels. We could read plays, but we don’t. It’s not the same. (Maybe if we read out loud, together, over drinks.)
All these good/bad reasons for going or not result in the statistical facts that one in twelve American adults sees a single straight play a year; that he or she sees an average of three (considering those few who see everything in town, few of the rest see two); and that, inversely, ninety-two percent of us rarely if ever darken the doors of a theatre.
Multiply these reasons and statistics by all the many other things we have to do and the bewildering range of options for what little leisure time we have. Who has time for a play?
We make time when it matters.
Does this matter?