Friday, August 01, 2008

What Exactly is the Bargain?

Garrett Eisler breaks down the savings for subscribing to Broadway Non-profits:

To whom is a $40 theatre ticket a bargain? Sure I'll pay that, and
more, for a once in a lifetime event. But to pay that in advance for a slate of shows that I really don't know much about? Not to mention the increasing trend of the "TBA slot" (Trust us! Something good!).

Let's put it this way. I like theatre. I'm interested in seeing lots of
different kinds of theatre--heck, I even make it my business. So when I'm having doubts about shelling out over $200 up front for probably two solo shows, an unfinished wreck by some fashionable Juilliard, and something no one would produce if the writer didn't have a famous name.... what kind of interest do you think you'd get from people who hate theatre?

My Subscription Survey for Boston Area Theatres is here.

1 comment:

Thomas Garvey said...

After some slight dismay at the tone of Playgoer's post, I found that he did make some interesting points about subscriptions, memberships, and portability. I left the following comment:

I'm glad this post went beyond the usual "is any show really worth more than $50??" bashing, because of course theatres can't control all their costs. Technology-assisted mass entertainment can go down in price as technical innovation cuts against rises in rents and wages, but theatre is essentially a slave to those forces, because it happens live, in one room, for a necessarily limited number of people. Theatre prices don't rise because theatres are greedy or incompetently managed (although maybe they are), but because "rents" inevitably rise in a market economy. In short, tickets are more expensive in New York because rents are higher in New York, and commercial rent is notoriously inelastic, even in a downturn like this one. Sorry to run on, but I do tire of reading rants about prices that simply ignore - or are ignorant of - the economic drivers of those prices.

All that said, you bring up some interesting ideas about "memberships" and portability. My question is - what about the economic health of the theatres themselves? I wish your post had addressed THAT question more clearly, and hadn't been framed in an "us-vs.-them" fashion. Portability, for instance, increases economic risks for theatres (just as subscriptions, which deliver money up-front to theatres, increase YOUR risk of paying for a weak play). Is there a way that risk could be off-set? Is there a way to structure "memberships" that enables stable financial planning for theatres, while allowing playgoers more flexibility? To sum up, the kind of rants one routinely hears about products, or movies, shouldn't really be made about theatre. It can't be outsourced or mass produced or managed toward the bottom line the way other businesses can. The economics of theatre MUST, perforce, either involve direct subsidy, or a cooperative understanding with the audience. Remember those equations way back in macro and micro in which consumption had to balance production? The same thing has to hold true in theatre.