The Playgoer: Ripoff of the Year?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ripoff of the Year?

Lincoln Center (summer) Festival is certainly not known for bargains. Offering practically no discounts outside of 10% occasionally for students (10%!), their excuse is they import expensive arts events from Europe and so the ticketbuyer shares the burden.

In the past I have shelled out $150 for such marathons as Mnouchkine's Dernier Caravanserail and the Druid Theatre's complete JM Synge cycle. But, hey, it was a whole day of theatre.

This year the bar has certainly been raised, to put it one way.

You may have heard about the enticing line up--playing now--of three Beckett monologues: Eh, Joe performed by Liam Neeson; Barry McGovern's I'll Go On, taken from the Beckett novels; and First Love with Ralph Fiennes.

Now there are $50 seats on the sides in both balcony and orchestra, which is, I guess, reasonable these days. But here's something to ponder: First Love runs one hour. Eh, Joe runs 30 minutes. 30 minutes!

At least I'll Go On is an epic hour and a half. But Barry McGovern, who he??? (Other than an Irish actor who's devoted his whole career just to playing Beckett.)

Now these are ticketed as three separate events. Which means the high-rollers are paying $90 each to see Liam Neeson for 30 minutes. And I do mean "see" him, since, as they may not know, Eh, Joe is a duet for a silent actor with an offstage voice.

Here's the kicker: Lincoln Center Festival is indeed offering the chance to see all three in "marathon" sessions. For no discount. So that means even for the $50 tickets you'd pay $150 for all three plays.

And of course the running time for this "marathon": 3 hours.

With some leisurely "dinner breaks" of course, it runs from 5:00-10:30, making you feel you got your money's worth.

Now, of course, how can you quantify the value of a theatrical experience. Especially in the case of a defiant minimalist like Beckett. And I suppose some Beckett purists pay any price to see the right actor sit motionless during Eh, Joe.

But, still, would even old Sam have wanted his plays to remain the extravagances of luxury tourism and chic culture vultures?


Daniel Bourque said...

I'm seeing one of the Beckett Marathons in a couple of weekends. It's expensive, yeah, but worth it I think if purely for the uniqueness of the event. How often do you see Fiennes doing a solo show, anyway? And the McGovern play has received pretty much universal acclaim- raves really as being one of THE great interpretations of Beckett. The Neeson show is a bit of shell game IMHO, but it's part of the event so I guess, what the hell.

Stuff at the Lincoln Center Festival is as a rule, expensive, and usually for a good reason. Actually, if you saw one of the DruidSynge Marathons (which I did) then you got a bargain. Producing stuff like "Die Soldaten" just doesn't come cheap. Is this all a bit elitist? Okay, maybe. But that's what high-end theatre is in this country for better or worse- LCT isn't really for the entry-level theatergoer as a rule. It's for the cultists... and the wealthy

What I think is interesting about the Gate/Beckett series is how they're splitting it all up- the "Breaks" seem too long to me, and I'm not sure why they are doing the shows individually as they don't seem like much of an evening out. Also, St. Anne’s Warehouse originally announced that THEY would be hosting the Gate/Beckett festival back last fall, so apparently somebody at LCT poached it from them.

Anonymous said...

Lincoln Center: We're not for entry-level theatergoers.

Sounds like a great new slogan if you ask me.

Theater of Ideas said...

I'm sorry, but three actors, three hours, $150? I'm sure that the Festival has its costs, but really, who are these shows for? I certainly can't afford that, as much as I would be interested in seeing an interesting interpretation of Beckett. I do wish the recent $100 million that was just donated to Lincoln Center went just a little towards making the Festival more accessible, in terms of price. That's what's been happening at the Metropolitan Opera, and they've been reaping the benefits (As have I...suddenly I can afford to see opera. From the highest balcony, but that's why there's opera glasses)

Anonymous said...

For the record -

If you are a member of TDF, both Eh Joe and I'll Go On appeared there this week for performances on Wednesday and Thursday. That's the only way I could afford to see it (orchestra seats! $30!).

I found both, well, "interesting."

Playgoer said...

That's really interesting about the TDF offer, actually. Seems to me that means they indeed had trouble SELLING those orchestra seats at $90 a pop--or $270 for the package. (Remember that the 10-hour Coast of Utopia "marathon" cost only $30 more. Just saying...)

On the point of "entry-level theatre" I have only this to say.

First I think Daniel has probably captured exactly how Lincoln Center Festival thinks of this themselves. However, not that he meant to imply this necessarily, but I have problems with equating "theatre expertise" automatically with high discretionary income levels.

The truth is, there are many,many folks out there who know tons more about Beckett than LCF director Nigel Reddin himself, but could barely afford even the $50 tickets.

And yet there are plenty of other folks, shelling out 3-figures every night on Broadway for whom the current "Grease" is the most gratifying theatre they've ever seen.

What do we make of this divide?

Eric said...

The cultural divide has been a back bone of theatre for as long as it has been a money making enterprise. We, and I use it in a Western Cultural Sense, have allowed wealth enormous impact on the, for lack of a better term, artistic report card of our theatre.

There is sense of exclusivity that comes from the high ticket prices, a literal sense too, but I think there is a feeling of intellectual elitism fed by those who can afford to see Beckett, for example, and not needing to make room for those who cannot fork over the dough. Theatre can be expensive and not for entry level because it's not for entry level. Circular logic, surely, but the notion of logic is there.

On your last note, a large part of me wants to fight against the categorization of Grease as Theatre, I mean, it is, but don't we want so much more?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Playgoer said...

Hi Anonymous! I'm so glad my writing on Samuel Beckett "inspired" you to post such an irrelevant hack spam comment!

I simply must return the compliment by going to your consumer website and posting random comments about esoteric theatre.