Sunday, November 25, 2007

Where are the people who should fill those seats

Happy last day of the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend, Everybody!!
My beautiful boy was visiting this week and so I am behind on everything due to my wanting to spend time with him and other family members not to mention that my husband has taken one for the Kennedy Center Honors scenic team and broken his leg in two places. A peice of giant scenery fell on him in the line of duty. NO kidding, a huge piece of scenery fell right on him and now he is on crutches during one of his busiest times of the year. So I am thankful that it was not worse and that I did not cancel his health insurance at his request in September.

Congratulations to the gang at Barksdale on the opening of "Moonlight and Magnolia" last Friday night. Aside: Frank it is OK for you to say "hi" to me if you see me at the theater especially when I am working- I noticed you said it was OK for Dave to say "Hey" to you at Starbucks or Barnes and Noble and that you and your lovely wife were in attendance at Willow Lawn. You may read about my opinion of the show in the fabulous STYLE WEEKLY whenever that slow talkin' tall Texan editor decides to put it in. What I wanted to comment about in this post is how upset I get when I go to the theater in Richmond and see so many empty seats in these teeny theaters.

Where is the theater going population here?
Allow me to begin this querry with a description of a typical theater audience in DC...Imagine a theater that is virtually full with only a couple of random empty seats. The audience population consists of people in all manner of dress from jeans to ubiquitous artist black to tweedy professor to chic diplomat and preppy/yuppy - lots of cool angular shaped glasses. All races are represented. Ages vary from a smattering of high school and college aged kids to very old people with the majority in their thirties, fourties and fifties. Even at matinees. Granted, I have been to shows both day and night that were not full or even well attended. But that usually only happens at smaller theaters or community productions. Usually, at Studio, Source, and Wolly Mammoth where I go most frequently, there are pretty full houses.

When I go to the theater in Richmond it is quite different. It seems like there are hardly ever sold out shows. A show as potentially interesting as "Austin's Bridge" or as absolutely fabulous as "Urinetown" should be packed every show. Even on opening nights I have seen partly full houses. When I go to Barksdale I feel like a kid in the sense most of my fellow theater goers are older - or at least look older than me. Rarely are audiences mixed in terms of race as far as I can tell.

I am truly thankful for the people that do attend local theater. Thank you all for your support. But where are the bodies who should be filling the empty seats? And/or how do we get them there?

Appologies- no time for spell check. Must get to yoga.

Looking forward to your comments.


Frank Creasy said...

Ouch, I am SO busted! Apologies Mary! Though in my defense, I have the same problem as with Dave...I'd not know your face to match you with your by-line, sorry to say! (Maybe a few jpegs on this blog, Dave???)

But I'm so sorry to hear about your hubby, hope he'll be mended soon. What a drag!

Thanks for the reference to my "lovely wife" (she is that, though I am totally biased), but she always tells me not to get front row seats (oh, sure, sure, Scott and David just could NOT perform because I was in the front row! Right, Carol, it TOTALLY threw them off!) Thank God Joe Pabst said afterwards he was glad we were there. Truth is that I went to get those tickets WEEKS ago, and they were nearly sold out, but those two were available. I figured Carol would forgive me. I've done far worse, believe me! But it was an extremely well done, highly entertaining show, top notch performances from all four - which, given the four in question, was no surprise. And of course, kudos to Steve Perigard and crew - Lynne Hartman, Lynne West, Sue Griffin and I'm sure I missed some. But suffice it to say, it's a real treat whether you're a theatre regular or not.

To your question, Mary, about where the theatre audiences are...I wish I knew. I'm hoping in 2008 to see more regional productions. We went recently to Abingdon to see a production of "Driving Miss Daisy" (stellar production), and as the "state theatre of Virginia" (their billing advertisement), they DO draw a number of out-of-towners. Artistic director Richard Rose's curtain speech welcomed a littany of groups, and indeed it was an eclectic audience. Can Richmond do the same? I think so, in my humble opinion. The recent Henley Street production of "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" enjoyed small but diverse audiences, and there were plenty of folks much younger than yours truly. Still, last Friday evening at Barksdale I did feel like the younger part of the demographic, even though I saw what looked to be some high school and college age audience members. They were in the minority, true, but they were there.

Hey, I'm not a producer or artistic director. I don't envy their jobs. But I have to think that once you find the types of productions that sell tickets - whether it's "Moonlight and Magnolias" (too soon to tell?) or "Swingtime Canteen" (rumored to be a big seller), then you don't stop to do demographic surveys of the average age of the audience members.

Why not more sold out shows, regardless of audience members' ages? What a great question. Answer that, and Bruce and Phil will hire you so they can retire early! There does seem to be something for everyone around town. Will the same people who go to see "Plaid Tidings" also be in the mood to see "Reindeer Monologues" at Fielden's? Maybe not. We have a really eclectic group of productions at any given time. Perhaps the wealth of choices, along with all the other kinds of entertainment around town, are too much to sustain lots of sellouts.

What do I know, though, I'm just another actor hoping to be cast when I'm looking for a gig. But if I had my druthers, I'd prefer all the theatrical diversity and fewer sellouts to the alternative. "Homogeneous" is only great when you're talking about milk.

Now, now then...I've seen "Reindeer Monologues" and "Moonlight and Magnolias", so now what? "Christmas Carol for two actors" opens soon...and there's "Plaid Tidings" and "Swingtime Canteen", and "A Christmas Story", and...and...whew! I need an eggnog, STAT!

Just go see a show people!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,
My favorite theatres are Arena Stage in D.C. and Signature Theatre in Shirlington (just outside of D.C.). Outstanding, solid productions all the time. While Richmond offers enjoyable entertainment, I've found the directing and acting can be uneven when too many college students are involved. I'm glad they're getting experience, I'm just saying the acting levels often vary. Richmond currently has no full equity theatre and thus I will continue to drive to D.C. to complement what my local town offers. It will be interesting to see if people will fill the theatre stages of the upcoming CenterStage won't it?

Thespis' Little Helper said...

A couple of things...I guess I'm more ruffled by the most previous comment at this point. I don't disagree with most of what was said but to say that not having a full Equity theatre means lower quality...I dunno...I've seen many Equity productions: regional, Broadway, and Off, that were mediocre or even bad...and numerous Equity actors that couldn't hold a candle to some non-Eq actors that I've seen. I've been on both side of the union, recently resigned, so I guess I can be kinda annoyed. Or not.

Sold out shows: Fridays Moonlight actually was sold out; doesn't mean everyone came that bought tickets, but there was not a single ticket available for purchase. I think that happens quite a bit around town. And I thought there were quite a number of younger people at the show on Friday.

Constantly (especially me) working to get a younger group of people to the theatre. It's getting better and better. It's on its way...not there yet...but it's coming.

Robinitaface said...

Go get 'em! Lack of awareness is a big part of it. Speaking with the general public (sorry about another food service reference, guys) - you know, a table would ask,
"so, are you in school?"
"no, actually. I'm an actor."
"really? do you do the shows at the Mosque/Landmark?"

It didn't even occur to many that there were professional theatres in Richmond with a local talent pool. They seemed very interested when I told them, but they just didn't know.

Younger audiences? Perhaps better advertised student discounts, if applicable. On the posters. On the websites. Kids heart the internets. Make sure the website is on the poster (I'm sure it is). Put those posters at the bars. Or thrift stores. Try places that serve brunch on the weekends, where they come in hungover, but know when they're saying,

"I'm never going to drink again...ooh.. a play...that's not drinking."

Perhaps it's a question of people like "anonymous" needing to get off their high horse, saving money on gas, and contributing to their own city's economy.

I dunno. Just some thoughts.

Mainly what is concerning me is this thread and another that just popped up at the Barksdale blog. And that is comparing RVA to other cities. There is no comparison. Richmond has its own life. Its own pulse. Please don't try to force it to be something it's not. If you want more butts in the seats, make people *know* the seats are available. You have to do the grunt work. The main thing is, people in Richmond - especially the young ones - are really good at spying BS when they see it. If you're trying to be something you're not, they'll turn the other way.

Richmond and DC are two different WORLDS. There are different histories - and we know Richmond clings hard to hers...some of which she probably shouldn't, which may account for some of the racial differentials. But that's another post entirely.

Let Richmond's own artistic voice be heard. It has so many different tones. People will come to hear it, whatever it is, as long as they KNOW it's there. They just have to know that someone is speaking THEIR language. If you stop and REALLY look around RVA, there are so many different voices to be heard. It's hard to put on shows all the time to please everyone. That's why it's awesome that there are so many different theatres with so many different missions. They may not have full houses yet, but the messages are getting out - and the people who are coming are hearing them. Hopefully, they are spreading the word. But it's not up to the audiences. It's not up to the critics. It's up to everybody, in a town like Richmond, to get the word out.

Anonymous said...

Is it always an issue of unsold seats, or is it more often a lot of usused seats? (Not a rhetorical question......)
I know there have been occassions where I have just been able to snag seats before something sold out (or in one unfortunate case, was the victim of a ticketing error and told in the lobby there were absolutely no seats left to make up for the error) only to actually go into a performance (even in the unfortunate example) and find there are many empty seats. Does this happen a lot, or does it just happen in the shows I go to?
(On the other hand, CYT, while clearly a training program for kids, seems to consistently sell out and pack their houses to the gills. Obviously, this is a whole differnt ball game, but there is a large family audience in the RVA area, so if you look even younger you will see a lot of up and coming theatre goers around here.)