The Playgoer: Deep Thoughts (About Subscriptions)

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deep Thoughts (About Subscriptions)

Can the New York theatre audience market really support 20+ nonprofit subscription theatres?

Do you subscribe? I know I don't. Sometimes to BAM--but only because it actually can work out to $25 a ticket for some amazing theatre from around the world. (Some amazing theatre.)

And, you know what, I like theatre. So do you, probably. And I'm betting most of us in the New York area think of an ideal season as one where we'd see maybe one play at Playwrights Horizons, another at Lincoln Center, another at the Public...and so on. We would see no reason to committ over $40 a ticket to a whole slate of titles when probably only one or two intrigues us. If that.

The answer to this is not--I repeat not--for these companies to simply acquire sexier plays, somehow. Nor is it to offer us yet more meaningless subscriber "frills." I have enough T shirts, thank you. And 10% off a $3 Coke at the concessions stand is still not very cheap. Plus your "newsletters" are rags of puff pieces and made completely irrelevant by the internet.

No. The answer, dear theatre companies, is to figure out a way to support yourselves that still allows "us"--by which I mean the considerable number of folks out there who like theatre but aren't your subscribers--to come to your theatre whenever we want at a reasonable price by simply walking up to the box office and buying a ticket.

You'd be suprised what happens. Just go to the movies sometime.


Ken said...

Exactly. Theaters get you to subscribe by waving the carrot of how much you'll save: "That's 20% off each show!", etc. But the use of that tactic is an admission that the prices for individual shows not tied together under the umbrella of a subscription are untenable to begin with for most people, certainly younger people. But I don't know if the subscription ploy is doing anything to get those people into the theater anyway. When I go to any of the shows of the company I have a subscription with this season, I see mainly (almost exclusively) white hair. And lots of canes, and a slow ascent up the aisle at show's end. This is not an attack on our elders, certainly, but shouldn't some of those seats be filled with young actors, writers, directors, or at least just young theater lovers, who need to be exposed to as much good new work as possible?

Freeman said...

In a synchronicity moment: I was listening to the new Radiolab podcast (plug!) and it's about Choice. How do you make choices and how many choices are too many.

I'd recommend it, as a sort of sidebar to the question of "How you decide." I think subscribing isn't a question of cost so much as where to spend your money. I could afford a single subscription, but when I try to figure out where to throw my cash, I just sort of immediately subconsciously give up. It's easier to pick a single production, than to commit to a single theater, in a city full of options.

Anonymous said...

What we need is a partnership subscription program. Buy a subscription package, but one that entitles you to see productions at different theaters each season. Check off which show you want to see at BAM, which at the Public, which at the Pearl, etc. Pay your fee, and that's your subscription. Done well, you'd also include some of the smaller companies.

Now if the big guys can get convinced that this would be a good idea. I bet even Broadway would get on board.

This is the ipod generation. We don't buy albums anymore, but go song-by-song.

Susan said...

I agree with the anon above; I work at a large nonprofit, and I've wanted to do a combined subscription for years - one show here, one show at another theater, etc. For many reasons, it's very difficult to arrange.

But I disagree about newsletters. I actually enjoy them. I love the publication you can pick up at Lincoln Center Theater with all of the dramaturgical articles about the show; I get a lot out of it. But I'm not a subscriber, and certainly wouldn't subscribe for such a perk.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, Susan, what are some of the biggest problems you've had in trying to arrange the combined subscription plan? Let's brainstorm!

Anonymous said...

I have also been jawing about a combined subscription option for ages. The closest anyone comes -which isn't close enough - is the "membership" at NYTW or the Public or the like, where you pick which plays and how to divide the number of tix you've paid for on a show-by-show basis. Still, it's only for one theater at a time. Seems this is the sort of thing ART/NY and TCG might press for --?? Or NYC's DCA.
To add to the suggestion: Can't theaters share a seasonal mailing? I'm shocked by how many multi-color brochures get crammed into my postbox regularly. Every theater pays a bundle for design, printing and postage - and chops down a few cherry orchards for the paper. Imagine that in, say, August and December, one catalogue came in the mail with pages apportioned to each participating theater based on the number of shows in its season. Hell, each could have its own designer to keep their "branded" look if they must. Saves theaters money, saves the earth trees, saves theater-goers from having to stash and look through a big pile of junk mail to figure out what they might like to see.

Playgoer said...

Keep the ideas, coming people! Let's absolutely use this as a chance to make recommendations to the industry.

By the way, on the LCT Review, Susan, I couldn't agree more. An exceptional publication. But I don't consider that a subscriber "newsletter" per se. In most of Europe that would be called...a programme!

I guess by "newsletter" I mean a periodic mailer with maybe a little about the current play but mostly photos of board members getting silly at the fundraising gala.

Anonymous said...

Last season, 3LD, HERE and DNA did a combo subscription plan, but ya never hear whether things like this actually worked or not. That's probably not a positive sign.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago ART/NY provided a "passport" subscription to all participating Off Off and some Off theatres -- I believe it was quite successful. I also believe it was labor intensive and there is cost in administering such a program. This program offered discount tickets to participating theatregoers so revenue sharing was taken care of in its design. Anything more sophisticated -- packaging traditional subscription offers -- is difficult in matching artistic quality, budgets, etc. and splitting the labor and revenue is a challenge.

Anonymous said...

Well then, how about a "floating pass" to participating theaters? Pay a flat fee at the start of each season and then receive a pass that entitles you to attend a single show at each theater using your pass ID. Subject to seat availability, and you get no choice in where you sit.

This shifts the bulk of the burden to the passholder, but it's like having a "phantom subscription." And since you don't choose your dates, you don't have to use one of the ticket brokers and their ridiculous "convenience" and "restoration" fees.

I'm basing this on AEA's showcase ticket policy. AEA members get in free to any showcase, as long as there are seats available... something you won't know until about five minutes before curtain.

Pass holders can attend one show only at each theater per pass, and the fee is divided equally among participating companies.