The Playgoer: "Mother Courage" preview

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Mother Courage" preview

Jonathan Kalb's story on the upcoming Mother Courage in today's Times, more substantive than the usual Arts & Leisure feature, gets into the nitty gritty of Brecht translation, with extensive commentary by Mr. Kushner.

I can't help but note how the Times packages the story--choices made clearly not by Kalb but the editors. The title of "Mother Courage gets a Makeover" and the front-page teaser in the print edition of the section ("How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mother Courage") tell us the Times can only speak to its readers about Brecht through the cheesiest of theatrical and pop culture filters. Plus, the chosen photo--of Kushner serving prop-champagne to George Wolfe--says more about celebrity than an underappreciated great play. (But then again, this is "Shakespeare in the Park.")

And also irresistible to point out is how, again in the print edition, directly facing the article is a half-page ad for the big show itself (starting previews Tuesday)--highlighting in big letters how you can get a ticket without waiting in line if you sign on to become a "Summer Sponsor." Lest we forget, that means buy a ticket for $150. (Full details on the program here.) The ad copy assures us this is only a contribution to "keep Shakespeare free" barely acknowledging the quid-pro-quo of it. But isn't there a simple mathematical question here? Since there's a finite number of seats, isn't it so that the more seats you sell/give/whatever to "sponsors"...there are fewer left for the "free" crowd? How is this working to keep Shakespeare free for all when he's now free for less, and bought by more?

I have no doubt of Oskar Eustis' noble intentions to keep the "Free Shakespeare" dream alive, and he obviously sees this as a necessary compromise to save the venture. But I pose a couple of simple questions. One: haven't you just increased the necessary fundraising for these productions by relying so on celebrity casting and heavy marketing? And two: how many "sponsorships" are you going to sell before you start calculating the seats taken away from those are waiting hours in line for your "free" tickets?

In short, are you content with one ticketing policy for the $150 crowd, and another for those without, who in many cases are sacrificing a day off work to get in?

I have emailed the Public's press office with similar questions (motsly factual on just how many seats are in the Delacorte, for instance) but no answer. Perhaps someone with better knowledge or contacts can get more answers. For instance, I wonder how well these "sponsorships" are selling? Perhaps I needn't be concerned if they're not taking up many seats after all?


Anonymous said...

The thing that annoys me the most is the humorous picture of millionaires playing around to accompany a piece about Brecht, and Eustis's grandiose idea about "changing the way America looks at Brecht."

Eustis seems quite in love with these grandiose ideas and speaks in hyperbolic language about the artists who work at his theatre. It's unseemly because it makes it seem like he's not really focused on the work being good, just on the notoriety and popularity of his theatre.

Anonymous said...

Not to fall down on either side of the argument, but the policy with the sponsorships is every other row - so at most, 1/2 of the seats or so is the cap for sponsorship sales. There are about 1800 seats or so (correct me if i'm wrong) in the Delacorte.

Sponsorships are selling well, but there is a very clear cap on them. I believe that seats given to corporate sponsors (which is nothing new) are included in the every other row policy, but don't quote me on that.

Playgoer said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for this intel.

I'm glad they do indeed have a "cap." Still, the difference between giving away, say, 1500 seats a day (minus 300 for corporate & donors?) and 900 I think is significant.

And I think of interest to those waiting out the long sweaty hours in line. Good to that what they're competing for is getting scarcer every time someone plunks down 150 bucks.

Anonymous said...

true enough.

not to further defend the public, but in the interest of full information - they do take a periodic count of those in lines, with the information of how many sponsor seats had been sold, and do advise folks in the line when they feel as though there is little point in joining the line. so, while it is lamentable that these people are not able to see the show (a whole other argument that i'm not coming down on either side for - although I find your $15 ticket idea intriguing, perhaps its time NYSF hit up time warner?) at least they are not wasting their time in line?

Anonymous said...

Economically, this is much like the case of the black macbook being priced higher than the white one, or differential airline tickets for that matter. It's amazing that a non-profit can charge $150 for a show, though I guess that's what Meryl and Kevin for. The theory is that the whole enterprise is possible and available to more people because some units (seats)are overpriced.

Unfortunately, thinking developed in the for-profit sphere is taking over philanthropy. If you get such a big perq from your donation, is it really a donation? By limiting supply so sharply, aren't we making those who can't pay that much work harder for a free ticket? Is this really a philanthropic service? And aren't we devaluing the work itself but making the issue of getting a seat more important than the play?

Once upon a time, stars were discovered in the park, not used to lure donors and garner press. Not only are there now fewer free seats, but fewer performances in all. Can any real artistic risks be taken? If so, will they matter much to anyone? They never let the press in the park until the run is nearly done, so a fluff piece is what the Times runs with (although they could choose to ignore it, but then who would want to pay for arts advertising there?) The participants are all pretty much in bed with this scheme together. And are we supposed to care? If I have to lose a day's pay to get a ticket, why should I? This Mother Courage should have been produced indoors, downtown, for a real, extended run available at variety of ticket prices, subject to real critical exposure. Maybe the stars just don't wanna commit for that long. So? Let 'em do movies. Judi Dench (say) wouldn't be caught dead playing a real stage role for only four weeks in Hyde Park. Give her a lenghty contract and a long run that she can actually do something artistic and important with!! And a young classically trained actor hoping to work in the park? Didn't go to NYU? Fuggetaboudit.

"Free Shakespeare in the Park" was meant for shows that dreams are made on, and those dreams should be available to all.

Anonymous said...

So, just how early does one need to get in line at the Public??

Playgoer said...

Based on my experience waiting in line for 2nd preview (8/9) I would say people that day were able to get there as late as 10am.

However, every week it will get worse, as awareness of the show grows (and explodes when it opens on 8/21).

With "Seagull" 5 years ago, I got there at 4am and was one of the last to get tix. I expect this will have similar numbers camping out overnight before long.

Anonymous said...

. . . unless the reviews are really negative. streep, yes, but also brecht and most americans hate him (unjustly, imho)