Most of the conversation going on about theatre and class right now in the "theatre blogosphere" is centered around money with a strong emphasis on school debt.
I've indulged in this kind of thing, too.
However, I think something is missing - which is what the pshychographics of class do to our heads with regard to how we make a living and how we judge "success".
Most people in this country, whether they qualify financially for membership in the middle class or not, have a middle class mindset, if not an upper middle class mindset. Even the so-called "working class" who, while their work may put them in the stereotypical blue collar bracket, almost always want the same things "middle class" people want - homes, cars, stereos, college educations, boats, coffee tables, Playstations, etc.
And, more importantly, they often want these things for the same reasons - to impress the neighbors.
Television sitcoms and advertisers have done this.
Specifically, advertisers have done it by always presenting an idealized lifestyle in which what you have - especially when it's their product - is what other people want, thus making you attractive, desireable, etc.
In television, with few exceptions (MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, ROSEANNE), everyone lives in a huge apartment with all the right stuff. In fact, the most working class family on TV right now is to be found on MEDIUM - though Joe IS a rocket scientist at NASA and they seem to have enough money for high end NOKIA phones and VOLVO's.
THE OFFICE describes most of our lives pretty well.
However... back to the subject.
Theatre - to me - certainly has a lot of class issues.
But WHAT you find playing in theatre is not the biggest of these issues. If anything, I think the moneyed people who go to theatre are more open minded about different perspectives than you'll find in the visual arts where a lot of direct commenting on culture has been largely blunted by abstraction and irony.
What I mean is, if you look around at regional theatre programming, you don't see only old white men getting produced. You have the Culture Clash at Berkelely Rep and La Jolla. You have Dael Orlandersmith at MTC. You have Cassandra Medley at the Magic and elsewhere in NY. You have Suzanne Lori Parks winning Pulitzers. You have Tracey Scott Wilson all over the place a few years ago. You have all the programming at The Public - even with Neil LaBute plays there. You have Nilo Cruz and Octavio Solis at OSF and elsewhere.
In other words, you have anything BUT a homogenized group of voices being heard and seen on some of the biggest non-profit institutional stages around the country.
(Weirdly, I've even been told that being a white male could hurt my chances of being produced - indirectly when it came to theatre and directly when it came to television.)
To me, the largest issue concerning class and theatre is NOT how much we borrow to do it.
It's how much we expect to get back from it when we put our blood and sweat into it.
After all, have we not all been raised on the very common middle class idea, "Do what you love and the money will follow"? Have we not been told to "follow our dreams" to exclusion of all else? Have we not been indoctrinated with the thought that "success" means "making money" to live on and buy stuff with?
Theatre does not owe the people working in it anything. It doesn't owe me a living, even if I want it to give me one. It doesn't love me because I love it.
And graduate writing/acting/directing programs don't usually reveal percentages of "successful" (ie, people working in the field) alumni because it would be embarrassing to do so. Most aren't "successful" in the common middle class definition of that term.
What we think we want comes from a place of the ego - ego formed in a cultural environment where middle class values and aspirations are as inescapable as air.
Part of that is a sense of entitlement.
Or, put another way, when we're honest about why we want to do theatre - and for me, it's not to make a living - then we can move forward.
But if we're hoping that theatre will fulfill the middle class dreams we have, we're deluded.
Theatre is not a middle class profession - even if it's the middle class who buy tickets to those shows at the non-profits.
It's not designed to buy all that stuff I talked about up there.
Its purpose is to do something else entirely.