Friday, April 8, 2011

I Like/Love Theater/re

According to [David Orr, author of the new book Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry], poetry differs from music and stamp collecting in that people’s love for poetry is measurably greater than their love for any other activity. Poetry fans don’t just love poetry a little; they really love it.

To test that hypothesis, Orr went to Google and conducted two different searches, one for “I like X” and one for “I love X,” with X being represented by baseball, cooking, gardening and half a dozen other activities, including movies and poetry. Admittedly, the science behind this research is slightly less complicated than that required to make a lemon meringue pie, but the results are noteworthy. In every instance except two, more people “like” an activity than “love” it; for example, readers of romance novels like that art form 3.36 times more than they love it. The exceptions are poker, which splits 50-50, and — of course — poetry, whose partisans “love” it twice as much as they “like” it.

--David Kirby, The New York Times Book Review

Google hits for "I like theater" = 846,000
Google hits for "I love theater" = 1,320,000
Google hits for "I like theatre" = 867,000
Google hits for "I love theatre" = 424,000

So, like poker, theater/theatre splits 50-50: the "likes" have 1,713,000 hits and the "loves" have 1,744,000 hits. Not a surprise, really; people who enjoy theater tend to be passionate about it, and the casual theatergoer (the person who "likes" rather than "loves" theater) sometimes seems like a dying breed.

We theater artists constantly ask "How can we make other people more excited to see theater?" but it's hard for us to answer that question, because we have trouble putting ourselves in the mindset of someone who isn't excited by theater.

But maybe an analogy between theater and poetry will prove helpful. I confess to not really "getting" or liking most contemporary poetry that I see, and being intimidated by poetry lovers. They all seem to be in some kind of club with arcane rituals and secret codes, and they're not giving me the key -- that is, I feel like I don't have the tools to enjoy or understand these poems.

And, I realize, that's probably how a lot of people feel about theater -- it's a secret club, it's too hard to understand, it's a closed circle full of weirdly passionate people.

So in order to come up with good answers to the question "How can theater lovers make other people more excited to see theater?", maybe I should start by thinking honestly about the question, "What would a poetry lover have to do to make me more excited to read poetry?"


terryteachout said...

Here's another possible analysis of your data set: people who spell it "theatre" are less passionate about the art form than those who spell it "theater."

Marissa said...

I had thought about that too. My theory was that "theatre" is the British spelling and there is more of a theatrical culture/tradition in the U.K., hence the "casual" theatergoers are able to outnumber the "fanatics." In Britain, it's possible to merely LIKE or ENJOY theater. But here in America, it's more black-and-white; you either LOVE or HATE theater.