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Hooray for Public Radio

January 7, 2007

Last night’s performance of Dan Hoyle’s solo show, Tings Dey Happen, at The Marsh Theatre in The Mission district of San Francisco, demonstrated the powerful role public radio can play in getting new audiences into the theatre. The Marsh is a small, black-box venue specializing in new work with a strong enough following among theatre crowds. But it’s not exactly a premiere destination for patrons of the arts in the city, even though the quality of the work presented there is often quite high.

Last night, the theatre was uncommonly full. Which is remarkable considering that the play was about Nigerian oil politics. The show’s director, Charlie Varon, asked people at the start of the show whether they’d attended productions at The Marsh before. About one third of the room put up their hands to indicate that they hadn’t. This was an amazingly high number of first-time visitors. Varon then asked audience members how they found out about the show. The majority responded that they had heard about it on KQED, one of the local NPR affiliate stations. Forum host Michael Krasny had interviewed Hoyle a few days previously. Some ex-neighbors of mine whom I ran into at the theatre (who have two very small children and don’t get out very much) had decided to attend the production on the strength of that interview.

Our radio stations should understand the impact they have on culture. Tings Dey Happen is an important show (I’ll be writing it up in next week’s issue of SF Weekly) and thanks to KQED, its impact will be felt by more people.

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