The Playgoer: 10/20/2005: "Free Night of Theatre"

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

10/20/2005: "Free Night of Theatre"

As part of a coordinated effort through Theatre Communications Group, tonight, October 20, there will be tons of free theatre in three metropolitan areas: Philadelphia, Austin, TX, and the Bay Area in California. The idea is to attract first time playgoers to several smaller professional theatres in those regions by basically giving away free tickets for one night's shows. TCG honcho Ben Cameron spells out the mission in his recent editorial for American Theatre magazine.

Don't worry. I will not argue against free theatre. Let me state the obvious in saying bravo, and I hope many take advantage of the offer. (If any readers are out there in these cities, please comment on how it went!) But this does at some point beg the question--is this what it takes? and how often can we afford to do this??? It's a success if people come in the door who never go to the theatre. But otherwise, I'm not sure what problems this giveaway fixes.

I once heard Ben Cameron himself pose an interesting counterargument to the assumption that theatre's problem is ticket prices. He rightly reminded us how much (like, lots!) people spend on other live entertainment like concerts. There's one argument to be made about theatre being too expensive for its "base" of starving artists. But as for the well-educated artsy yuppies who support most other culture industries... a $75 theatre ticket is not necessarily an obstacle....No, Cameron suggested we take a page from business and start thinking about not just price, but value. People pay more money when they believe the value is high.

So until we persuade the culture at large about the value of the theatre... we may be lucky if they even show up for free.

1 comment:

John Branch said...

I can't argue with either of these statements: "It's a success if people come in the door who never go to the theatre. But otherwise, I'm not sure what problems this giveaway fixes." The crux of the matter is in that "if." The New York dance community has for two years now engaged in a similar experiment with the help of City Center, offering a smorgasbord of companies (something like four or five different ones each night) over about a week each fall, for a price of only $10 a ticket, under the title "Fall into Dance." Since the experiments are being conducted anyway, we might as well watch and wait to hear what they lead to. In both cases, we have to hope that some investment is being made in tracking the results.