The Playgoer: SPF Panel follow-up

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Friday, July 14, 2006

SPF Panel follow-up

Thanks to those who posted the stimulating comments to my notes on Monday's Summer Play Festival panel. Interesting volleys on such questions as:

  • what are the parallels (or potential parallels) between sports and theatre?
  • was Well really all that, after all?
  • am I revealing my elitism again by insisting we remember some theatregoers are young and rich?
Also, check out "Mr. Excitement" who offers his riposte, to which I responded, and to which he has responded.

And finally, if you have the print edition of American Theatre, you can see their take on a basically similar "big question," but in a national context in their "Conversations in the Field." Too bad they're not linking, but I'll try to put up some excerpts and annotations this weekend.


June said...

I know a bunch of young, educated, and relatively well-paid young people who have a good amount of discretionary income. They go to concerts and movies, and they buy music and books, and they spend a lot of money in clubs and bars, and they go to "events," but with the exception of one guy who grew up in a theater-focused family, they don't go to the theater.

Why not? Well, it's not part of their social habit, but that could change. They have the money to buy tickets, but it seems mysterious and weird to them.

Broadway ticket prices are comparable with concert ticket prices, but generally when you go to a concert, you know the band's music. You know their recordings, and you know you'll get an added bit of spectacle and insight.

Over and over again, I hear these young people complain that "you never know what you're going to get" at the theater. That's a good bit of the excitement for me, but they seem to feel the need for more certainty--more reassurance that they're going to get value for money.

And, to beat a horse I've given a good slamming to before, I do think the "bragging rights" thing is a part of it. For these folks, image is very important. Although they're very subtle, they want to be able to boast that they've seen Band X--but who's impressed if they've seen Play X?

THALATTA! Theatre International said...

I think June's points about 'value for money' and the 'never knowing what you're going to get' is spot on. That's why people eat up Broadway regardless of ticket price, because they can at least buy the cast album (or see the original movie it was based on). And frankly, 'who cares what it's about as long as Usher is in it?' There is at least some familiarity. Some show a person has never heard of by someone they've never heard of with people they've never seen in a location that's not a five minute walk from Port Authority is a real risk. That's why Word of Mouth is our strongest ally. And for young, wealthy hipsters to pay attention, you're gonna have to give them one hell of a good time. Sadly, 'bragging rights' only brings with it exclusivity and elitism which is already too pervasive in the theatre community. How to be open and cool at same time...hmmm?

Mark said...

No, it's a fair question, I think. If the pat response to "where have all the audiences gone?" is *always* to cite high ticket prices, it DOES beg the question of "well why don't even people who can afford to come come?" (Actually, it probably begs a more grammatical version of that question.)

We do need to create pools of loyal theater fans, absolutely. That would be the ideal. But they can't only come from the monied class (even though wondering why *they* don't come is a start), because there wouldn't be enough of them to really rebuild our audiences. There's a way for people to participate as fans of music and sports without being wealthy. (And the rub is that even the ones that aren't might eventually like it so much that they throw their working-class wages at a big-game ticket or sold-out concert!)

A lot of us do that for theater. There's several shows I've seen that are worth every bit of that big ticket price--but since I can only go for a few of those per year, I also subsist on a diet of industry tickets, comps, TDF and the like, keeping my appetite for theater whetted year-round. But I'm *already* a fan.

So, two questions, I guess: how do we get people who can spend $80 for a ticket to spend it on theater? And what are we offering the to people who can't, in order to "get them hooked"? Both questions are good ones.

Anonymous said...

how do we get people who can spend $80 for a ticket to spend it on theater

Look at the "breakdowns" of the SPF festival. How many of those would you want to see ? Why?

Atlantic's Neil Pepe: He suggested "what do we have to say" is the more pertinent question we need to ask ourselves, as opposed to just "what does it cost."

My question is...what do any of those shows have to say? Out of the ones you've read that sound interesting...they must be saying something to you. What is it saying ?

Playgoer said...

In defense of the Summer Play Festival itself... I will agree that that particular festival is not necessarily the answer. (I won't accuse it of hypocrisy, though, since it only sponsored the talk and no one on the panel "represented" SPF.)

It's hard to judge the SPF plays by their titles and descriptions, but I would generally agree that so far it's not inspiring. We'll see what comes out of it. But based on the few titles and writers I'm familiar with, it does seem like some average middle of the road plays already in development hell/turnaround who have had some influential backers.... In short, these seem like the same comfortable middle class exercises that are filling our nonprofit stages already. From their blurbs, none of them seem like they have anything important to "say" in that I'm sure the more explicitly political scripts were weeded out as too "soapbox" and not "mainstream."

But I do believe SPF is open about its goals and bourgeois brand. The goals are modest--each play only gets a few (maybe a week's?) performances with no critics. So the audience must always be other artists, friends of the artists, and industry folk checking it all out. So yes, an incestuous affair. Very few will buy a ticket "blind" to one of these.

However, I will say I like the idea of taking over a complex like Theatre Row for a month and staging a bunch of new plays for $10 a pop. Let's face it, these are productions not workshops and that's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Well said.
But then with that kind of power is it:
1. Doing what they can to help new voices.
2. Or not really in touch with what exactly is facing the future of theatre's new blood.

Anonymous said...

Actually, with the amount of rehearal time those SPF plays get, it really IS a workshop. They have no right to call these productions.

M. Alice said...

1. Two weeks of rehearsal for all the SPF productions. One week of shows. Same budget no matter what size the cast.

2. None of the writers had any control over the descriptions of their plays. Every writer I spoke with was unhappy about the advertised descriptions.

3. I saw 10 of the other shows at the festival this year. Do NOT judge those plays based on the fucking blurbs in the ads. If you see a play and hate it: fine. But don't dismiss all of them based on those misleading blurbs.