Julie and I got to talking this weekend about theater companies, budgets, and audience mindsets. We came up with a few sort of obvious statements.
I think this relates to the Holy Sh*t! article that went around last week. It starts out with a fairly given idea. If your theater is awesome, people will generally go see it. Then it says, “You know what’s awesome? Theater that has a Holy Sh*t! moment like some sort of Hollywood Blockbuster.” So obviously if all our theater was full of crazy Hollywood Blockbuster moments we’d have an audience. Which I think we can all agree is true. If theater was just the movies we would have movie audiences! Fantastic insight.
But there is an element of truth there. There are audiences who can’t enjoy a play without the kitchen sink set. And period costumes. And a string quartet playing original music. And suddenly the cost of your production is around that of a Hollywood Blockbuster.
Which leads me to number two.
I know this is heresay. Every single theater mission statement is about getting new people in the door. About forcing people who currently hate theater to love theater. If necessary by gunpoint. But it’s worth considering. Do we really want everyone?
I saw a hilarious comedy this summer that I really enjoyed. Loved it. It had a completely realistic set that was simple, but cost some money. The thing was, it didn’t need the set at all. The characters didn’t interact with it in any meaningful way. It gave them an excuse to have tiny bits of stage business, and that’s it. But that set was there simply because of those audience members who can’t handle plays without realistic sets. And that stinks because the company in question could use the money to keep the lights on, and pay their actors, and generally keep making theater.
Which makes me wonder – is it perhaps time to jettison parts of the audience?
p>Would we have budget problems if we didn’t accommodate the audience that requires realism? Thanks to Julie, LGT has always been in the black. We sometimes lose money, but that just means leaner budgets for the next show. One thing we struggle with is how “professional” our productions should look. And by “professional” we mean accommodating of audience members with little to no imagination. Almost all of our shows bring in the same audience numbers. When we try to expand we often end up failing spectacularly. The question we often have to ask, is if we spent $1000 on our set rather than $200-400 would we see additional audience? Past experience has told us that we will. But that audience is usually in the 20-50 person range. It doesn’t equal $600-800 in extra ticket sales. Julie always makes us justify budgets in ticket sales.
Will posters bring in 4 additional people?
If it can be justified we do it.
You have to decide if they’re worth it. For us, it’s much more useful to keep making inexpensive theater that our audience enjoys as we hone our skills and develop our voice. Going bankrupt doesn’t serve our audience or our artistic development.
What do you think?