Monday, April 24, 2006

Theatre Economics and Audiences

In discussion, Lelia said:
" Pricing shows beyond the range of most folks - at $20-$30 a ticket 'round here, I don't go to shows at all, much less 2 or 3 a week, and it's just me & my husband to feed and shelter. This price is regardless of shoestring or extravaganza production values."
my reply:
This is true and important! I see tons of theatre because I get comps-- to the press openings through my connections as an ex-critic, or to previews through Boston's StageSource org. which "papers the house" with actor-member freebies when one of the producing theatres has a slow advance sale. Or I usher. Otherwise theatre going just wouldn't be within my budget. "Talking To Terrorists", which is a play with a left/labor POV, had to charge $40 for tickets. That's almost an 8 hour day's work at the $5.15 federal minimun wage. The Royal Court, where the play sold out its run in London last year, has tickets that cost only slightly more than a movie-- (I no longer go to movies-- they are too expensive for a person living on 10k of Social Security) plus a pay-what-you-can day each week and special rush seats for not just students but also for the unemployed.
But! The "theatre community" can't cure this price problem-- the "theatre community" is always broke. Artists subsidize their art-- and the art of their colleagues. We are all part of the segment of the economy that is losing ground. When I moved to Boston in 1967, I was able to support myself through teaching Creative Dramatics for kids at $10-$15 for an hour or an hour and a half class. Rent was $50 per month. A loaf of bread cost $0.15. Prices are more than 10 times what they were 40 years ago-- but community programs around here still advertise for people with college degrees in theatre to teach for $10-$15 per class! And they have plenty of applicants to choose from-- many of them with Master's degrees that cost $100,000 or more and left the graduates seriously in debt! (My education was essentially free-- as were museums and concerts and city-supported truck stage traveling shows...) The current small theatre contract pays actors $120 per week for 6 shows-- a 21 + hour work week at less than $7 per hour. Who can afford do do theatre? Who can afford to go to theatre? What can be addressed in a theatre that is practiced by and patronized by such rarified subgroups-- starving artists and those with plenty of disposable income and a taste for live entertainment?

Annie suggests:
"If you are union - SAG or Equity - please visit your union websites
and take advantage of the free and ultra discount entertainment offered to you."
to which I reply:
I'm not union. Perhaps I've never been good enough. But I tell myself that it is because my particular calling as an actor is simply not economically viable. From time to time I do audition for some irresistible role-- Bessie Burger, say; or Mdm Arcati-- open to non-Equity actors in a shoestring production. But my main mission as an actor is to serve the process of bringing new plays to life-- in cold and staged readings, workshops or productions. I don't expect to be paid-- though I'm grateful for the rare instance when there's a grant or something and I am paid. But I do it for love, and to "pay forward" all the actors who have graciously helped me by taking roles in my plays. Unfortunately, most of my actor friends are Equity, and though they are allowed to volunteer to do readings for me or other writers they are forbidden to do workshops or a performance. But unless there are non-Equity actors-- esp in the 40-60 range-- willing to work for nothing, only writers with money will be able to learn the lessons that only working with actors can teach.

We do have a wonderful org, Boston StageSource, that holds networking events, arranges comps and two-fers, produces an annual cattle-call for local theatres' season's casting, maintains headshot files, sends email op notices, publishes a Resource Guide listing every theatre group and artist member...!

But That's Writers, or Actors-- the bigger issue is Audiences, who it is we're talking to and what interests we address.


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