Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Should the Price of the Ticket Equal the Quality of the Work?

In Chris Jones's column today, he talked about the Goodman Theatre's return ticket policy for its current production of El Grito del Bronx. The program is part of the Driehaus Foundation's funding agreement for the show. It is not necessarily imposed to insure that the production is high quality, but rather "to make people think about taking chances in the future" according to Driehaus Foundation program officer Richard Cahan.

It is a reasonable argument. Going out to the theatre is often a risky investment. Beyond the cost of the ticket price there are many other considerations. Time is often the biggest one. On top of that there is usually dinner expenses and sometimes expenses for the baby sitter. Even when these peripheral items are not in play, you have to deal with the possibility that you might not like the production. And after paying anywhere from $20 to $120 and giving up often more than two hours of your time, it is hard to remain positive about going to see theatre if the performance is a dud.

So what do we do about it? Many theatre companies deal with this in many different ways.

One of the most popular new ideas is "Pay What You Can." The audience is asked to assign the cost that they think is fair for an evening of theatre. This practices is being used more in some of the smaller Off-Loop theatres and usually the tickets are compared to the price of a movie ticket. Unfortunately the audience is asked for their opinion on the value of the show before the performance rather than after. Yes, the theatre is thus guaranteed payment, but at the same time patrons are only contributing what they "think" they should rather than responding to the artistic value at the end of the night.

But with the wolves circling and demanding that the arts are more accountable for the bottom line - more like for-profit corporations - how else are we to compete? Isn't it better to allow our customers to complain and get a refund if they don't like the product? Right now their only other alternative is to stop going all together. Given that the second option is death to our art form, isn't it better to at least give the audience some empowerment and let them feel like they are getting the best value for their buck?

It was on this day in 30 B.C. that Cleopatra committed suicide. The events were later dramatized by Shakespeare in his play Antony and Cleopatra.

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