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January 28, 2009

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Monica

Of course, several of the $120+ orchestra seats on Broadway are for rather low quality shows, a trend I don't think will end.

But do general audiences really care about quality and ticket prices? The more theater savvy audiences might care, but I don't think that the general audiences care.

99

To disagree, Monica, I think that they care very, very much. It's one of the reasons that audiences are declining, especially for straight plays, Off-Broadway. $75 is a lot of money. There's no way around that. For two people to go out for a night of theater, you're now talking upwards of, what, $500 bucks, if you throw in a good meal. You better be blown away for that kind of scratch. Broadway, in a way, can afford to keep prices high, because it's a destination. Tourists fly in from all over to spend a week seeing what's hot or new on Broadway. They get their spectacle and have a good time. Not a lot of people are flying in to see the new Lynn Nottage play. (Though more should.) It's just...it's a lot of money, man. And we're not talking about a for-profit venture (technically).

The general public does indeed care. Very, very much. Especially these days. I wouldn't even be surprised if we start seeing the B'way ticket prices go down over the next few months, too...

jy

Your points are valid, and I know this is after the fact, but TDF has a handful of dates available for RUINED, including the 6th, for $23.

jy

Your points are valid, and I know this is after the fact, but TDF has a handful of dates available for RUINED, including the 6th, for $23.

Monica

There are several places where audiences can get discounted tickets in New York.

Alright, I don't live in New York. I visit every year and mainly see off- and off-off-Broadway shows because 1). it's less expensive and 2). there's better stuff there it seems. If I could, I would fly out to see a new Lynn Nottage play. I have to write about the arts both in Iowa and in the nation for publication, this includes reviewing shows. I have to pay for my own tickets because the theater companies can't afford to give me free tickets and the paper I write for can't afford to pay for my tickets. Frequently, the shows that are less expensive (and happen to be the better ones I see) do not attract the audiences the more expensive shows do. It also annoys me that even with a nice burger before a show in one city, it costs less than if I see a show in the city I live in. And quite frankly, the companies that charge less are doing better shows.

I do agree with you that Broadway can keep charging a lot. When I saw "Wicked" for a second time, much to my dismay, the orchestra seats were $125. But tourists flock to that show because it's something they're familiar with. I do think that for straight plays, off-Broadway, and non-profits to survive, they need to lower the ticket prices. Although, in general, with the fact that so many shows closed recently, I'd think that it would signal to the producers that they need to lower the prices to survive. But presently, when I speak with people that go to New York and see shows, they're willing to pay $100+ for seats.

I only know one person that visits New York that uses tkts and tries to get discounted tickets, but she doesn't see many of the spectacles most people go to New York to see.

Parabasis

"There are several places where audiences can get discounted tickets in New York."

this, i would argue is part of the *problem*, not a solution. An audience member shouldn't have to part of a club to get a ticket at a reasonable price. What we're doing right now is providing a negative incentive towards new audiences. You have to be a repeat costumer and clued in to certain channels to get a ticket that even resembles affordable.

There's lots of discounts out there for RUINED, but if I was just someone who read about the play somewhere and thought it sounded good, or someone whose had enjoyed my local theater's production of INTIMATE APPAREL and wanted to check out more of the writer's work while visiting New York, I'd be in trouble.

meanwhile, someone who already is committed to seeing a lot of theatre can see it for cheap with little effort, they're on the right mailing list, or they're a subscriber or TDF member &c. That sends a pretty clear message that you are only interested in doubling down on your existing audience. (The seasons the Big Theaters pick would be the other signal).

Henry Akona

The problem is that $18 is an artificial price. $18 = Showcase. There is a legitimate place for Showcases, but, in the end, no one involved is getting paid for his or her time. How can you set a value on a group of people donating hundreds, if not thousands, of hours for their time?

The paradox of live performance (theater, music, dance) is that if you have to recoup your true costs at the box-office, many (most?) audience members can't afford the tickets. The average box-office-to-donation ratio for non-profits is 1:1. Tickets, which are already expensive, would have to double to cover the true costs.

It's an argument for increased government, corporate and individual funding, but I don't think it's fair to compare an $18 ticket (unless it's a heavily subsidized show at the Signature) to a $75 ticket in terms of inherent value.

Performance Monkey

Here in London, as in New York, commercial theatre seems to occupy a whole separate economic reality to the one I inhabit. And Isaac's point about new audiences seems absolutely fundamental - you can cast stars, devise promotional wheezes, adapt popular movies for the stage - but nothing has as big an effect in getting newbies into a theatre as good work at affordable prices. The Donmar Warehouse here is mounting a season of classics (Chekhov, Shakespeare, Mishima) in a big West End theatre, and packing it out not only because of the casts (Judi Dench, Jude Law) and terrific reviews, but because the prices have been kept relatively low to encourage people to capitalise on the buzzy notices - and then book for future shows in the season. It has the way forward for serious theatre aiming at a popular audience.

Jason Grote

Henry, I'm in favor of actors getting paid, but every ticket price is artificial, including the $75 price. Theater is not functional as an actual business (but then again, neither is any other business - everything's subsidized). There is no such thing as a "real price," except in the mad fever dreams of Freidmanite market fundamentalists.

I'd also add that not every cheap show is a showcase, though you're right that most of the $18 shows are. Most small companies that produce on a mini-contract charge between $20 and $35.

I think a couple of different things are going on here - on the one hand, a lot of tourists and such actually want to pay exorbitant ticket prices (or at least they did before the economy tanked), because it's part of the experience. Broadway, is, by and large, a tourist experience, an amusement park simulacrum, and people like to say they paid some crazy amount of money to see some extravaganza. Artistic merit is wholly irrelevant, and entertainment value is relevant but still secondary (Avenue Q or The Producers are OK, but neither is anywhere hear as funny as an episode from Fawlty Towers, e.g.). Even August: Osage County - a pretty good play, well-performed, but basically a modern reproduction of the 50s-style realist play. The present and future of Broadway as a business is event marketing.

If Broadway is about commerce, art is supposed to reside in the nonprofit system - Off-Broadway and regionals. We've all been round and round with the brokenness of this system, so I won't repeat myself, but I will say this: as a consumer, I won't pay more than $35 for a show, not out of principle (not at all!) but because of a rational purchasing decision. As a consumer of theater, $75 theater is a "bad brand" for me. Based on prior experience (and fairly or not, but it's my disposable income) I associate a $75 ticket with boredom, predictability, and disappointment, and I associate a $25 ticket (or, to be more accurate, certain smaller companies like Soho Rep) with something that is likely to be at least interesting, if not great. Entertainment dollar for entertainment dollar, The Kitchen kicks The Roundabout's ass!

This is not to say that I've never seen anything great on Broadway or at a huge institutional theater (these days I can usually score a free ticket to most things anyway), just that I've been burnt too many times to make it a worthwhile calculation.

99

I think, in a way, Jason is gets to the point: you have certain assumptions about a $75 ticket price. Whether those are good or bad assumptions, we bring them to the table and the general audience brings them to the table. A regular movie ticket costs $12(!), but an IMAX movie ticket costs $15 (or whatever). You expect more from the IMAX experience. What I don't think we talk about in the Great Ticket Price Debate (or much at all really when we talk about dwindling audiences) is what people are getting for their money. And this isn't to say that anyone involved is getting rich or is overpaid. Honestly, we're ALL underpaid. (That's another story...) But I think there's a pretty obvious correlation between the ticket prices being high, which raises the expectations, which are (let's face it) regularly not met, which discourages audience members, and on and on...

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