Wednesday, January 04, 2012

...but some sun will shine too...

After looking through the gloomy forecast for January yesterday, I went back and looked up this item on the booming box office that closed out the year on Broadway. While this looks like good news, there is a definite cloud associated with this silver lining: a 10% rise in the average ticket price.

I've heard from some artistic directors that a good or bad review can swing total box office for a show by several thousand dollars. I've always been skeptical about this and haven't seen much data that proves or disproves this kind of assertion. So I was very interested to hear about this experiment that will try to track this kind of impact. I expect the results will fuel the debate rather than settle it but still, actual cause/effect numbers to look at will be a good change of pace.


philcrosby said...

That will be a very interesting experiment. A rave from the NYTimes couldn't save "Lysistrata Jones" and pans didn't hurt "Evita" or "Cats". Our production of "Holiday Stops" got appreciative but tepid nods from most of the critics but was a box office bonanza, overselling almost every performance, and outselling every show we have done in the new venue.

So who knows? We are lucky here in River City that we have the relatively large number of critics writing from all different perspectives. And even luckier that we have audiences who support the arts and know what they like when they see it.

Anonymous said...

I think Phil makes a good point and as a critic I'd like to add my thoughts to the phenomenon he points out: "Holiday Stops" being a box office bonanza in the face of lukewarm critical reviews.

First, it's important to remember that critics have more of a historical knowledge of RTP's repertoire and familiarity of the quality levels of their shows.(And I realize I only have over a year's experience with their productions. In fact, "The Holiday Stops" was my one year anniversary with as its theater critic. I hope, in time, to gain more intimacy with their productions.)

Therefore, from my perspective, "Holiday Stops" was not as laudable -- historically -- to "[tos]" and "Devil Boys", and on an individual level it was satisfactory. Additionally, it would be interesting to know if people who are -- I guess you would say -- RTP regulars thought the show was not as great as those who were first-time attendees. (I say this because the regulars also have that historical memory similar to the critics.)

Second, we should keep in mind that RTP speaks to a niche audience. And this niche audience is (1) more apt to attend theater than the general population and (2) support RTP irrespective of tepid reviews becasue of community solidarity.

Third, the show was a sequel to a -- from what I've heard -- blockbuster hit, "The Stops". People are more willing to see a sequel even if the reviews aren't stellar.

Fourth, we have to remember that this was a world premiere. Critics are more likely to weight the merits of the script than if this were some recycled show from off-Broadway. Audiences are more unaffected by the quality of the script's exposition.

In sum, I'm not surprised to have heard that the show sold out. This "anomaly" was brought to my attention recently. It was a good show and I'm glad RTP was able to sell out.

--Matthew Miller

philcrosby said...

One more thing I forgot to mention (and it was triggered by Matthew's reference to RTP's "niche audience, which anyone would assume was true because of our mission) ... was that "Holiday Stops" played to a largely straight, female audience.

It is a phenomenon we have been watching for some time, especially in "Devil Boys" and last summer's "Dirty Little Showtunes."

"Suddenly Last Summer" (which got mixed responses from the critics as well) also outsold almost everything we have done to date, except for "TOS" and "Judas."

We also did a big marketing push this past fall, and had some momentum from the Williams festival, so we were likely more top of mind that perhaps we have been in the past.

One of the things we have been told makes us appealing is the venue ... the large comfy lobby, the full bar (and terrific martinis), the comfortable seating.

We'll see what happens during "2 Boys ..."!

Anonymous said...

That's excellent that straight females are seeing these shows. It's good that diverse audiences are coming to see the issues pertinent to the LGBT community performed on stage.

It's interesting to hear that "Suddenly" outsold almost everything except "[tos]" and "Judas". However, I think it shows that a bold marketing strategy and some comfy chairs can overcome an apathetic review!

I'd be interesting in seeing more of these statistics, since I too am skeptical like Dave. (Although, RTP may be an exception around town, but I'm not certain.)


Jacquie O. said...

I do agree that a nice venue (and good booze of course) can play a small part in making up for a review or reviews that perhaps ride the fence. However, a bad review or even a review that is not clear or goes over the heads of most readers, may sway a ticket buyer to go to another play.

Reviews are a part of life, so my motto has always been to have a strong marketing campaign first. A marketing campaign that looks at your show in a fresh, interesting or even controversial way can cancel out a mediocre review.

Look at it this way, how many people will go see a movie in the first week because the preview was amazing.

And yes Phil – I have come to see many of your shows just for the Martinis alone! They are that good!!! Okay, and you do some kick-ass theatre!


Anonymous said...

I agree that a strong marketing campaign is very important. I was in a show recently that received 5 reviews, and out of those, 3 were fairly negative, 1 was mixed, and the last one basically told the other reviewers to bug off and that they didn't know what they were talking about. So it's all subjective. In addition, the audience is the real determiner of how successful something is - if they're coming and having a grand time, that's what's important. I've read many a negative review about shows or movies, or restaurants - if there's something that attracts me personally to it, and I WANT to see it/go there, I will. I'm not a lemming, and can make my own decisions. Sadly, a lot of the population has the mentality of "Well, if (so and so) says it's bad, then we just can't possibly go." And I think there's a danger in that. Market a show, make it fantastic to the best of your ability, and let the other pieces fall where they may. Reviewers don't ALWAYS know what they're talking about :)

Anonymous said...

I think I am going to start a free blog and become Richmond's 200th reviewer ... just because I say so.