Center Stage SPOTLIGHT

The Online Journal for Center Stage Playhouse

A Discussion About Affordable Quality Theater

Nick’s post about the impact of expensive Broadway tickets has sparked a great conversation.  Here’s a transcript of the debate from Center Stage Playhouse’s Facebook page.  What’s your opinion on the topic?  Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Tal Aviezer It’s hard to argue that Broadway tickets are too expensive when Broadway is doing so well and Broadway attendance levels are the highest they have been at any time since the popularization of television in the 1950s. Clearly, a lot of people can and will buy Broadway tickets. Popular shows are not having any trouble filling seats at the current price points; and with TKTS, TDF, and mail and email offers, dedicated fans are able to see most shows at reasonable rates. And I don’t think anybody can accuse Broadway of being “elitist” when a good third of the shows are recycled versions of Hollywood movies and other broadly-pitched fare. Broadway shows are incredibly expensive to produce; even with “high” ticket prices most do not turn a profit for months or even years after they open. Changing that would involve sacrifices by the unions representing performers, musicians, and stagehands that are highly unlikely to happen, and that pretty much everybody working in the entertainment industry would and should oppose. For those who really value theater, there is plenty of affordable or even free high-quality theater available in New York. I do recommend that anybody in theater or employed by any non-profit join the Theater Development Fund immediately at tdf.org. Broadway tickets can be purchased through them for $39, Off-Broadway for $15-$29.

Nick Leshi Excellent information, Tal. But, here’s the point of the discussion I’d like to start — Is that message of affordable theater coming across? Are the majority of the Broadway audiences now tourists and others with disposable income? When “non-theater-buffs” want to go out for an evening of entertainment, how do we make them choose local theater shows as their first option?

John Thaddeus Liszewski Tal, the TDF info is great. More people need to be aware of it. As far as getting people to choose local theaters first, that’s a whole different conversation. One we’ve struggled with for years. Neighborhoods in New York City, namely the Bronx, have drastically changed. We no longer have that small town community support of 20 years ago. I don’t think the ticket prices for our theaters are particularly high or unaffordable. I think it’s proving that our shows are worth the audiences’ time not their money. NY audiences are “spoiled” by Broadway’s big budget flamboyant shows. We have to show them what’s possible on a shoe string, which is what we operate on. Using the best actors, directors, and production values we can. And also, maybe more importantly, making sure they know we are there as an option. So yes Broadway does affect us, but I don’t think price is the problem.

Nick Leshi Johnny, exactly — there is affordable quality theater out there. But when I hear from many people who don’t go to theater very often that “theater is too expensive” and I suggest local shows, they tend to be hesitant unless they know someone in the show or I end up pestering them to go check out a production I think they would really love. We need to find ways to let people know all the options that are out there instead of just preaching to the choir. It’s particularly frustrating when I hear folks worry about paying 10 or 15 or 20 bucks for a local theater show, but they often have no qualms about spending that much for a movie.

Tal Aviezer Broadway audiences have ALWAYS been tourists and people with disposable income – that’s not a case of something that is only happening “now”. I can’t help but think that “theater is too expensive” is in many cases code for “live theater is not important to me.” I really don’t think price is the issue for local theaters. And I don’t think that trying to convince a non-theater-going person that they will enjoy a local play more than what’s playing at the multiplex is a good use of time or resources. Better to locate and market towards your existing potential audience who would already be interested in coming to see your show if a) they knew your production existed and that b) your production is actually worth seeing.

Nick Leshi And I think it’s fine for someone to love movies AND theater (and television, and videogames, etc, I being one of them). 🙂  I also think we should consider frequent group-discounted trips to Broadway shows.

Ed Bartosik During the Koch Administration, NYC supported youth programs in a big way. One such program was NYC Kids on Stage funded by the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation with Commissioner Stern and a very talented theater professional, Jennifer Vermont-Davis as its Artistic Director. KOS had a musical theater company in each borough and at its height had two Shakespeare Companies, two chorus companies, a dance troupe and an opera company. All supported by professional Directors, Choreographers, Musical Directors, Stage Managers, Costume, Set and Lighting Designers. Over an eight-year span, KOS recruited over 1,000 youth ages 6 to 19 into the program and performed for over 20,000 children, adults and seniors. I had the honor of being the Director of the Bronx Musical Theatre Company and later became the program’s acting Artistic Director. Many of these kids went on to theater careers and supporters of the arts in one way or another and most if not all went on to college. Unfortunately, the Dinkins Administration with its new Parks Commissioner, Betsy Gotbaum, killed the program, which I believe was the beginning of the end of youth supported programs in NYC. The nail came with our cross-dressing Mayor who accelerated the process though privatization and later with the Bloomberg administration through Public Private Partnerships. The Republican led State Legislature was no help either using the windfall of Lotto money to replace budgets instead of bolstering budgets. Now we have rich people like the Koch Brothers funding big non-profit theater institutions like Lincoln Center and small companies like Center Stage reduced to begging for leftovers. TDF is a great program, but a lot more needs to be done to turn the tide of “theater for the rich.”

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This entry was posted on September 2, 2012 by .

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