Thursday, March 25, 2010

Um. Bombshell?

Has anybody else heard about this?
But Daisey also reported that Oskar Eustis, artistic director of New York's Public Theatre — coincidentally, he's profiled in the most recent issue of The New Yorker (subscription required for the full story) — Oskar Eustis has come very close to making all the Public's offerings free of charge, not just Shakespeare in the Park. He could get a swanky donor to pony up the full ticket price, he believes, because, actually, the money raised from admissions isn't a huge percentage of the Public's income.
That's from a piece by Jerome Weeks in Art&Seek. )Super-commenter/guest blogger cgeye posted it at Isaac's place here.) Weeks is writing about Mike Daisey's recent performance of How Theater Failed America in Dallas and the apparent news that Mike Daisey mentioned during the talkback. Which I haven't heard a whisper of. Have you?

Weeks hits the nail on the head, paraphrasing Kevin Moriarty of the Dallas Theater Center:
Potentially, it's a game-changer. If we remove the ticket price as an obstacle to attending, then there should really be very little to hinder people from coming to the theater. That means, if people still stay away in droves, we have no excuse. We're either a) not offering the kind of stage art they want to see or b) we're not reaching them somehow.
Yeah. Basically.

So...is this for real?

10 comments:

Hans said...

There is another luxury besides the "swanky donor" that would allow the Public to give away all its tickets: perceived value. With big names and and the Public's own history, the audience doesn't need convincing that its productions are worth seeing. With an upstart or struggling small regional theatre, however, ticket prices themselves can be pretty persuasive that there is value in the art. Of course there's a hard-to-find balance between prices that are too high or too low, but making theatre free doesn't, by itself, necessarily attract a larger audience.

Mike Daisey said...

Yes, it is for real. The interesting point that the article doesn't cover is that the limiting factor as to why it wasn't done ISN'T money--it is resistance from the board. Perceived value is the actual battleground that these issues will be fought over.

99 said...

Holy crap. Thanks for chiming in.

And I really don't understand this notion of perceived value in entertainment. I'm sure there's solid economic theory to back it up and whatnot, but do people really think that because something is "free," people will treat it like it has no value? That seems nuts to me.

Hans said...

Yes, actually. I don't know enough about economic theory or psychology to back it up with studies or numbers, but I have experimented with ticket prices and giveaways enough to know from experience that it's true. More than that, though, I've had audience members themselves tell me that they're more motivated to check a production out if it costs something. Similarly, if I charge $30 for tickets in a town where theatre usually costs $20-$25, then people assume that what I'm doing is something special. It doesn't mean they can (or choose to) afford it, but the perceived value is significant.

Tony Adams said...

Does the free include $150 reserved tix for people who want to buy them in advance? Like Shakespeare in the Park so they don't have to wait in line?

Or are they looking at revising that as well?

99 said...

I guess the question is: what's value in this? Thinking about it more, sure, I've heard the stuff about how people are more likely to use something that costs a dollar vs. something that's free, but we're talking about theatre here. If your tickets are considered valuable, but no one can afford them, what's the point?

Hans said...

You nailed it there, 99. That's why finding the right balance is so difficult.

cgeye said...

Another perspective:

http://www.thelaunchcoach.com/why-affordable-products-hurt-you-and-your-customers

99 said...

Interesting...and maybe worth it's own post, but that entire line of thinking runs headlong into the idea of theatre as public service or public good. Right now, it falls entirely into the premium service category.

cgeye said...

This is a good discussion of Free vs. Not Free:

http://www.2amtheatre.com/2010/04/02/filthy-lucre-part-two-redefining-reward/