The Playgoer: To Washington!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To Washington!

With all eyes on our nation's capital today, why not a word about the DC theatre scene!

Overdue here's an informative year-in-review piece I read in the City Paper when I was there over the holidays and have been keeping crumpled up in my travel bag. I think most non-NYC cities will relate to the complex relation described here between increased success and and budget anxiety.

Where things stand: For seven years, we’ve watched as Washington’s major theaters dreamed big and built bigger, erecting opulent venues (or expanding existing ones) to house increasingly elaborate productions. Budgets, ambitions and coffers swelled, and suddenly, happily, D.C. was a place where a working actor could live up to the title, finding enough steady employment to support herself without spending her days slinging hash, suds, or memos. There are more full-time actors in the city now than ever.
On the other hand...

Now let’s put all that in context. The average price of a theater ticket in D.C.—that’s across all venues, large and small—is now well north of 50 bucks. At the same time, the furious construction of the last decade means that on any given night there are at least 15,000 theater seats in D.C. that desperately need asses in them. When Arena completes its renovations next fall, there’ll be even more.

Understand that theaterfolk are a lithe, adaptable lot, and they do get it. They’re taking steps: discounting tickets more aggressively, pruning casts, corralling volunteers, cadging in-kind contributions from firms that can’t swing donations, building castles out of light when Styrofoam proves too expensive. They’ve also started taking a hard look at their schedules, with—how to say this delicately?—a renewed focus on the bottom line.

Actually the 15,000 asses in the seats part is pretty relevant in nonprofit Off-Broadway as well, as I covered here.

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