Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Generators were brought to power a portion of the Speed Arts building. Courtesy of Julie Logan from 90.7  KFSR.
Speech Arts building remains closed until Monday as repairs continue, but 'Seminar' will go on as planned
Dec 1, 2023
A crowd gathers along the street to await the grand opening of Gelateria Del Centro.
Downtown Fresno welcomes a sweet taste of Italy
Nov 24, 2023

Performing arts programs struggle with low attendance rates after pandemic

Kelsey Deroian (left) as Vera Joseph and Tyler Murphy (right) as Leo Joseph-Connell. (Marcos Acosta/The Collegian)

The performing arts at Fresno State are struggling with declining attendance, even with the worst of the worldwide effects of COVID-19 in the rearview mirror. One reason is the rise in popularity of digital entertainment. The Fresno State Department of Theatre and Dance has seen a negative impact on what was once a source of great enjoyment, wonder and escapism for those who admire the arts.   

“We live in an era that rewards instant gratification in the sense that if I want to watch something, I can just get online and watch it,” Sandi-Diaz said. “And that, of course, affects what we choose to watch and what we want to watch.” 

Despite the curtain closing due to the pandemic, the rise in the cost of living has surged, burning a hole in the pocket of consumers as they turn their attention to more pressing needs as opposed to spending money on entertainment.

Miguel Gastelum, communications specialist and box office manager, said that he believes that the pandemic is indeed the largest factor in lowered attendance.

“In the year before the pandemic, the Department of Theatre and Dance had one of its most highly attended and profitable years in the last ten years,” he said.

As “American Son” opens Friday, Sep. 29, directed by professor Thomas-Whit Ellis, the department is hoping for increased turnout.

The pandemic has made its mark on the entertainment industry, causing a shift in preference from in-person to digital viewing, but not all groups are affected.

“The Fresno State Symphony Orchestra hasn’t seen a major impact on audiences,” said Thomas Loewenheim, the conductor of Fresno State’s Symphony Orchestra.

The large size of the ensemble makes it easier to sell tickets to friends and family, and the relatively small size of the Fresno State Concert Hall (about 300 seats) also has an impact on the orchestra’s bottom line.

Andreas Werz, artistic director of Keyboard Concerts, Fresno State’s most prestigious arts offering, is concerned about season ticket sales and expressed his thoughts to the Munro Review.

“People just don’t seem to want to commit to season tickets, and that’s a global trend,” he said.

Dan Pessano, the managing director of Good Company Players, which has performed dinner theater for 50 years in Fresno, also acknowledged COVID-19 as a reason for attendance decline.

“When you’re vulnerable, you don’t need to take another hit to the head,” Pessano said.

While the pandemic landed a decisive blow against the theatre, poor marketing and lack of budget have also contributed to the continuing low attendance.

“One of the downfalls of being an educational institution and not having the deep pockets of our athletics program is that there is little room for big, splashy marketing campaigns,” Gastelum said. “We have to rely on organic content and local media coverage. If only we had the ‘Barbie’ marketing budget.”

Pessano concurred with Gastelum’s comments. 

“In general, there’s not a lot of money and no butts in seats, and the way you get butts in seats is to spend a lot of money. Sometimes that money comes from season ticket holders and the season ticket holder number is diminishing,” Pessano said.

Theatre used to be a great source of comfort and entertainment for people but with the impact of the pandemic combined with the rise of the digital age, that affinity from the audience has begun to waver which affects the morale of the performers.

“There’s a lot of effort going into creating a show. It’s disappointing when you’re playing for an empty hall, and it can be devastating for our program,” Loewenheim said.

Regardless, there is hope that the arts will survive the harsh blow to both revenue and resolve. 

“People that are involved in the arts and theatre, we have this huge hidden impact, life-changing life. Long in eternal memory impact on an audience,” Pessano said. “So whether there are a lot of people, there are a few people there, the impact is still there. We get the bonus of having given that gift to that audience. And I think it’s fundamentally why we do it.”

Gastelum believes that there is still value in students choosing to pursue the performing arts.

“Theatre is great for both student performers and audiences because it helps you become a better critical thinker. It allows you to gain new perspectives and see issues that others, who may not have the same life experience as you face,” he said.

This story was updated on Oct. 3 to remove unverified data.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Collegian
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Fresno State Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Collegian
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *