Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Killer Strike?

Well, good morning Baltimore. Or whatever. (Did I post here before that, during the strike, I found the giant "You Can't Stop the Beat" billboard hysterical?)

Since I last wrote you, we got the grosses for last week. So, what we saw was the big shows were big, despite the strike. If they were effected by some group cancellations, they clearly made it up in single ticket sales. Shows that you would expect to be middling--or worse--were, well, worse. Notably the Xanadu average ticket price went down a good amount from where it was during the last two strike weeks. (Though it's still at $80.58, which is substantial and way better than any experts predicted it would be six months ago.) Really, I found the grosses sort of uneventful. Which I guess is good? Well, not good for the blog, but good for theater. Of course we still have to deal with January and February. On that note--did anyone read all the way down in Campbell Robertson's Friday post-strike analysis piece, because it ended with Kevin McCollum saying: "The months of January and February historically have been more devastating than any strike." Umm... So my take on that immediately was "Hey, it's good to see this many shows back on the boards, but don't get used to them." Great? Though of course we all know the harsh winter is particularly hard on tiny people, like me (though I love the cold, I may blow away one day), and Broadway. So it's not like he was delivering shocking bad news.

And with that in mind--let's talk about Broadway's straight plays, particularly August: Osage County. We're in a little bit of a crunch, more shows are opening now than should be. This means that each show gets to soak in the sun a little less. Does it matter? August: Osage County (which has a title my friend Kevin Manganaro described last year as "the best thing ever") got across-the-board amazing reviews. The best play Broadway has seen in years! Rush to the theater! Buy full price tickets! Of course that's exciting. Really. Genuinely, as a theater person, you so wait for that.

But August: Osage County was the third Broadway show to open in as many days and tomorrow another show opens. This can't be good for August. And here we're talking about a straight play with a random title and an unknown cast, so, it needs help. And this backlog is not helping it. But how much is it hurting it? That's harder to say.

You know, outside of the community (containing people who would be going to see the play anyway), it's not like plays are buzzed about for days. They get their big reviews in the paper, people read them and then the next day they read something else. They've made up their minds if they are going to buy tickets already and that is that. So if you look at it that way, the effect isn't horrible. That being said, there is another argument. If Play X opens on a Sunday, gets rave reviews and then nothing opens for a week, if someone thinks to themselves on Wednesday, "I want to buy tickets to a play," they're probably going to go buy Play X. Now if Play X opens on Sunday, gets rave reviews then Play Y opens on Tuesday and gets just somewhat good reviews (though not nearly the raves X got), Play X might lose some of those Wednesday ticket buyers to Play Y. The question is: How many of those Wednesday ticket buyers exist and how many of those that exist is Play X losing? And there is sort of no way of answering that. My instinct is that isn't not that huge a problem. I talk to a lot of average theatergoers and, at least the people to, make a decision the day they realize Play X is the play to see. Now Play Y could alter that decision, but I don't think we're talking about a devastating result there.

But, the thing is we can't look at recent precedent really. Typically we do have a little crunch now and a big spring crunch. But that crunch doesn't usually involve 5 straight plays. And, additionally, during that crunch we don't typically have an unknown--to the general public--play that critics tell you to drop everything and go see. (If we do, it's a spring opener and spring is a different time audience-wise as it heads into summer, considerably better than heading into winter in terms of box office.) So we can't really look at 2006 and say, "Well, when this happened then...." It's all speculation. And there is never going to be anyway to tell because, well, it's not like we have one August: Osage County opening in its own week and another one opening this week. There is no control group. Sadly. But we will see what the grosses look like in the coming weeks and maybe that will tell us a little something.

Of course, I hope they are sky high. And if they're not, we're going to be hearing that critics don't matter anymore. But, eh, I'll never buy that. They matter less than they did years ago, but they matter. The question I frequently hear discussed is whether they matter in terms of full reviews or they just matter for ad pull quotes--in other words, whether the average consumer is reading Isherwood's review or they are just buying based on the pull quote in the ad. That's another issue that factors in to this whole date analysis, but I'm ignoring it because I think it's related. (Can you get your full page ad out when you're the only big ad? If you have 5 big ads you know someone is going to find quotes for each one.... which therefore minimizes the importance of the quotes in each...)

Anyway, something to muse on. Let me know what you guys think. Support August: Osage County and straight plays in general. (My friend, genius aspiring playwright Billy Finnegan, is so going to love this post because of that last line.)

1 comment:

Viagra said...

That was a great article!