The Playgoer: November 2011

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Slow Death of the Season Subscription

TCG's annual "Theatre Facts" survey has some sobering news for subscription-based theatre companies. As Chris Jones reports:

According to Theatre Facts 2010, the annual research snapshot released by the TCG lobbying and support organization, subscription income is dropping at American theaters at an alarming rate. Between 2006 and 2010, the report (released Monday) says, national subscription income dropped by an eye-catching 15.1%. Some 14% fewer subscripion tickets were sold and the closely watched subscriber base dropped by 15%.
Are you really surprised, though?  Do you subscribe to anyone's season? When you look at the offerings for your local regional, or even the NYC nonprofits, do you see any justification to fork over upwards of $200 up front for a ticket  to four or five shows you're not sure about? (More likely, one or two you're interested in and the rest... eh.)

Yes, your parents and grandparents in the suburbs might still like planning their social calendar and commuting plans around a monthly theatre visit. But the rest of us might prefer to, oh, I don't know, buy tickets only when we want to see something?

Interestingly, single-ticket income rose modestly during each of the years in the study. And between 2006 and 2010, the number of single-ticket buyers rose by 3%. 
So think it over, Managing Directors of America. Yes, you're spoiled by years of up-front financing from those subscription renewals.  But how can you retool the business model for the 21st century?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spidey Gets the Last Laugh?

And they said it wouldn't last...

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark celebrates, bittersweet anniversary of that disastrous first preview, exactly one year ago today.  And after all the upheavals, openings and re-openings, firings and hirings, here they are still running, and raking in an impressive $2 million gross for Thanksgiving week.

This hardly makes it profitable yet. The question for Spidey has always been can they run the many years necessary to recoup that $70 million investment?  Not anytime soon, but the producers are hitting the circuit this week, talking the show up and doubling down.

Weekly running costs alone for “Spider-Man” total $1 million or more, by far the highest amount on Broadway, while its net income has ranged recently from $100,000 to $300,000 a week. At that rate the show would need to play on Broadway at least five more years — and possibly quite a bit longer — to pay off debts, a run very few shows achieve. In other words, it would need to turn into a hit on par with “Wicked” or “The Lion King” (the latter directed by Ms. Taymor), which after lengthy runs still regularly sit atop the weekly Broadway box office charts.


[The producers'] bullish outlook derives from the show’s robust weekly box office sales since early summer, and what the producers say is $12 million in advance ticket sales driven by tour and school groups, and visitors from outside the New York region. (Those visitors from farther afield account for about half its audience.) Mr. Cohl said the musical has had advance ticket sales of about $1.6 million a week on average this month, a sizable amount. Those advance sales numbers could not be independently confirmed; they would be less than those for hit shows like “Wicked,” “Lion King,” and “The Book of Mormon,” but still enough to demonstrate staying power.

Mr. Cohl said he was also emboldened by surveys of those attending “Spider-Man” that indicate half its audience were people attending their first Broadway show.
True, I guess an audience that wants a themepark experience doesn't care about whatever dramaturgical flaws Spider-Man may display. But is it even satisfying themepark material?

Still, hats off to the sheer determination to keep the show running this long. But, then again, anything's possible when you've got money to burn and lots and lots of patience.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Last Word on Shakespeare Conspiracy Theories?

"[H]ow could a man who had only a grammar-school education and spoke Latin and a little Greek possibly have written something as bad as All’s Well That Ends Well?"

-Eric Idle, satirically sticking it to the "Oxfordians" in a recent New Yorker.

He continues: "Queen Elizabeth, who was obviously a man, conspired to have Shakespeare named as the author of his plays....It was obviously an upper-class twit who wished to disguise his identity so that Vanessa Redgrave could get a job in her old age."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wooster Group & Royal Shakespare Company Tag-Team "Troilus"

These seeming transatlantic opposites are collaborating on what promises to be the weirdest Troilus yet:

The Wooster Group is teaming up with the Royal Shakespeare Company on a production of Troilus & Cressida, Shakespeare's tale of the Trojan War, to premiere at the London 2012 Festival during the Olympics.

We know it sounds nuts, but the RSC and their associate director Rupert Goold approached us about this unlikely collaboration. We found it irresistible....

The gameplan is this: The RSC will play the Greeks. The Wooster Group will play the Trojans. And just as the play is structures as a series of alternating scenes between the two camps, our rehearsals will be similarly divided. The Wooster Group will build the Trojan world at the Performing Garage and the RSC will build the Greek wold in the UK. We will meet for five weeks of rehearsal together before the opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in August 2012, followed by performances in London and New York.

From the Group's own fundraising appeal. (Their NYC rehearsals won't be funded by RSC, so they're asking for donations here.)

Unfair to judge from early, early rehearsals, but here's a glimpse of their process:

TROILUS & CRESSIDA - movement rehearsal [07.12.11] from The Wooster Group on Vimeo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"ITunes for Plays"?

That's what Indie Theatre web publisher/impresario Martin Denton calls his new brainchild, Indie Theater Now, a deluxe online "bookstore" for the latest in scrappy scripts.

How does it work?

It is a dynamic, constantly expanding digital library of plays by indie playwrights whose work meets the criteria of our publication program. (Learn about our curating process here.) For a very small price, plays may be purchased for reading only (i.e., plays may not be printed nor copied to reader’s computer). Revenue is shared with the participating playwrights.
I'm very curious about the potential success of this. One key question is: will companies/producers outside of NYC actually come to this site looking for plays and playwrights they don't know?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

More Adam & Ish

Such buzz did Charles Isherwood's online surrender to Adam Rapp create that Riedel had him on Theatre Talk this past weekend to explain.

By the way: Isherwood's piece only ran on the Times website as a "blog" post. (I consider "institutional blog" a total oxymoron.) It never ran in print. A small milestone, perhaps, for the medium of theatre blogging in the mainstream media?

Oh, and do check out this site that he mentions.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Review: "Pangs of the Messiah"

Straight outta Israel! "Pangs of the Messiah" is a play Motti Lerner wrote about the Jewish West Bank settlements...back in the 80s, believe it or not.  He's now revised/updated it and Edward Einhorn's Untitled Theatre Company #61 is giving it a long overdue NYC premiere. My review in Time Out (online only) is, alas, not a thumbs-up. But if you follow such issues, this is a play (and writer) you should know about.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Mamet's "Breakdown"?

"What I think that has happened to Mr. Mamet is that he is an artist and a contrarian, and I think that somehow, living under the shade of the Southern California palm tree engendered a kind of contempt in him for himself. And a decompensation occurred, which resulted in his putting on the suit of The Conservative. He’s always despised hypocrisy, and I think he’s in a kind of war with the hypocrisy within his community and within himself. Look, it’s not unlike when Bob Dylan became a born-again Christian. It’s the trajectory of someone searching for truth. The fact that his ideas at the moment are riddled with contempt and that he’s in bed with people who would quite happily see him dead is just another iteration of believing that you have answers when there aren’t any, really. I’m not really interested in David as an ideologue. I’m interested in his poetry as a playwright and his sense of humor. That’s the real Mamet to me. The real Mamet is an actor who became a writer and had a real sense of the criminal and the sleight of hand in American life. I think that sometimes writers feel sort of small, and he’s always suffered from a preponderance of testosterone. And I think being a liberal or a progressive can make a particular kind of Chicago guy, which David is, feel kind of small. So I think that he’s just in the middle of a breakdown."

-Jon Robin Baitz, asked about fellow playwright David Mamet's political, um, reawakening?

He goes on to call him "possessed by the devil," too--but you should probably check the context of that.

The Devil's next play--about a Weathermen-esque unrepentant 60s radical--does indeed to seem to promise more of the same. And yet, would I pay to see Patti LuPone and Laurie Metcalf go at each other in Mamet-speak? Fuckin'-Ruthie yeah!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Review: Dancing at Lughnasa

My Time Out review of the Irish Rep's Dancing at Lughnasa is now available as an exclusive online bonus feature!

Ok, exclusive to anyone with a computer...