The Playgoer: Eustis profile

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Eustis profile

A worthwhile up-close-and-personal in New York Mag. on Oscar Eustis at the Public, by Jeremy McCarter.

I take issue with both Eustis and McCarter's basic assumptions at the end, though.

For all his modest stands and impersonal choices, Eustis has been nurturing a big move of his own, one that might out-Papp even Papp. He has spoken in the past of his belief in “radical accessibility.” When I ask him to elaborate, he speaks deliberately. “There should be nobody economically excluded from seeing this work. I don’t know the best way to do it, but we do have a very successful model in the park: We give them all away."

For decades, steep ticket prices have hampered every attempt to reform the New York theater: high cost creates risk, which limits audiences and excludes the young, which leads to conservative programming, which saps energy and diversity, which sticks you with the overpriced superannuated mess we’re in today. If Eustis could somehow make every ticket free, that particular Gordian knot would be cut. Is that really what he intends?

First of all, as I have argued already, I strongly object to holding up the Shakespeare in the Park free tickets policy as a "successful" or admirable model. I also have had enough of people assuming young people don't go to the theatre just because of cost. We all know plenty of "yutes" of all economic backgrounds pay plenty (north of $80) for concerts. They don't go to theatre because they think they'll be bored. If they thought it might be halfway engaging, they'd gladly pay the $10 the pay for a movie. (A much more realistic and worthwhile goal for a ticket policy.)

10 comments:

Damien said...

Playgoer, have you been to many concerts lately? The ones that charge $80 and up are largely for baby-boomer acts, and the stadiums are filled with middle-aged American Express cardholders. As I recall, you don't like the Delacorte financial model because A) a quarter of the seats go to corporate sponsors (although what that matters to the people sitting in the other free seats, I don't know) and B) you'd personally rather pay $70 or $80 than have to wait in line all day. Easy to say when you have $70 or $80 to pay. But I think as a model, the Delacorte works pretty damn well for people who don't have a lot of money but do love theater and have a free summer day to spend in the park.

You can't have it all ways. The model you'd like--cheap tickets for everyone instead of free tickets for a few--is currently being put in practice for the Signature's 20-month, five-play season (Trip to Bountiful, Landscape of the Body and the three upcoming August Wilson plays). All seats for all shows are $15. How did they do it? Simple--the whole thing was underwritten by Time Warner. Now, how much do you want to be that Time Warner got a whole bunch of corporate seats in return? And how easy is it to imagine the perils of corporate underwriting as a future model for cheap seats?

There's currently an interesting thread on All That Chat, of all places, about how Altar Boyz, which seems to have been running for about 12 thousand years, but is apparently not even close to recouping. More and more evidence seems to suggest that off-Broadway is no longer commercially viable, period. So cheap seats for everyone is just never going to happen, and in its absence, what the Public does is pretty laudable, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Young people will pay 50 bucks for ecstasy and coke but complain that plays are too expensive. Let's face it, most people want to use their money to have fun, not see plays. The theatre will never be popular.

Anonymous said...

No offense, Playgoer, but I thought Jeremy McCarter was phoning it in with that profile. For a piece of that length to have so little in it that hasn't already been in the Times, the Voice and elsewhere is kind of shameful imho. And, ahem, why didn't he press Eustis on whether the Public had tried to get MNIRC. Given the old history with Joe Papp cancelling a Palestinian play, Eustis perhaps had a opportunity not only to get the show up in NYC, but also to right some old bad karma. (I heard a rumor a month ago that in fact the Public would be presenting the Royal Court production -- but then silence . . . )

Dr. Cashmere said...

I think the Signature program is one to watch. I agree that cheap rather than free seats are the answer.

The Delacorte ticket distribution model is a fiasco--how many people do have a day to spend waiting on line? If (as the McCarter piece suggests) Eustis really wants the people in the audience to look like the people on the subway, he needs to figure out a better way to parcel out Delacorte tickets.

Anonymous said...

"How many people do have a day to spend waiting on line?"

Well, clearly, enough to fill every seat for every Delacorte performance. What's the big deal of, once a year, having a theater that privileges people who have time rather than people who have money? If you really don't want to wait on line, there's an easy solution--buy a subscription to the Public's season.

If there was half as much outrage at the signs in every Broadway theater now saying "Premium tickets available at $251.25" (by the way, how IS all that "theater restoration" for $1.25 a ticket going?) as there seems to be about free seats at the Delacorte (where the audience looks a lot more like a cross-section of New York than it does at most other theaters), we'd be better off.

The Playgoer said...

Do ALL Public subscribers really get comps to the Delacorte? Really???

I'm also not really sure about that "cross-section" nature of the Delacorte audience. I'll check this summer. But my memories of past shows are of the same middle class white people I always see. The ones camping out in the park were a little more grundgy, but maybe that was the heat.

I agree--it should be as diverse as the subway. And people pay $2 for the subway!

YS said...

What Playgoer is saying here has been borne out in Motion Picture Audience Surveys as well.

OTX did a study of last season's decline in movie attendance in younger demographics.

The number one reason young people are not going to the movies? Value. The price of a ticket in exchange for the quality of what they are getting.

The study concluded basically that it is the "overpriced, mediocre experience," that is keeping young people away.

Dr. Cashmere said...

Let me be more explicit: Yes, there is a thin (but sizable) slice of the city that can afford to set aside a day to wait on line for tickets. But many (most?) New Yorkers work all day. Most don't have flexible schedules. And that's particularly true among workers making less than, say, $10 per hour.

So making the flexibility to be able to stand in line all day the test for who gets to see the plays is a perfect formula for preventing an economically diverse audience from showing up.

$5 tickets would be an improvement. A phone reservation line would be an improvement. But the current system, fueled as it may be by good intentions, winds up excluding a huge chunk of the city.

Anonymous said...

And I'm sure we all know (or have been) people who stand in line for most of the day and still don't get tickets. As a woman, I have little appetite for sleeping in the park.

Anonymous said...

I wish people would stop generalizing or speaking about things they have no clue about. Damien, the Time Warner sponsorship of Signature is pure philanthropy and NOT about getting corporate seats to entertain clients or VIP's. Out of the 10K seats available to the public for each production, only 50 go to Time Warner (plus a handful for opening night.) In addition, those 50 are offered to the EMPLOYEES in a lottery form to encourage theatre going. We seem to be stuck in the old "corporate" is bad attitude of years past. Time Warner simply felt they were doing a good thing for the city, one that made a difference. Of course, this was under the old regime. From everything I know about it, they have been a great partner to Signature and never once crossed the line in anyway. The new CEO seems a tad more Machiavellian in his pursuits so who knows how much longer that will continue, though.