It seems logical — theater attendance would go up if tickets were cheaper. Of course, probably everyone reading this site is well aware of the very often low pay that everyone involved in a theater production makes, even those working in the two biggest theater markets, Broadway and the West End.
Often there are just too many hands in the cash register and not enough cash, especially for shows that aren’t hits. And even if a show is a hit, ticket prices rise because of supply and demand, as evidenced by ticket prices for blockbuster shows like The Producers and Book of Mormon.
So while it would be wonderful for theater tickets to be cheaper, the reality of that happening is… well, not very likely.
Still, Kevin Spacey — who is not only the artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre in the West End but just completed an acclaimed run as the lead role in Richard III at the BAM on this side of the Pond — tells the London Evening Standard that for the long-term health of the industry ticket prices need to be reduced, pointing out, “When I look around at Broadway and the West End, theatre is becoming an exclusive club… if you don’t have £115 to spend, and that’s not talking about parking, dinner, the baby-sitting and everything else. Kids are not going to spend that kind of money. They’re going to buy iPads, save the money, or do something else.”
Spacey argues that as the current crop of theatergoers ages, there is no younger generation aiming to replace them, saying, “As the generation that is going passes on, the question is who is going to replace them? If we don’t reach out to make theatre affordable to the young generation we will lose them all. It is so short-sighted not to think about your future audiences. In this climate we need more than ever for companies to step up and support initiatives that make theatre accessible, especially to young people. Exposure to the arts and culture is enormously valuable.”
While I think Spacey does have a valid point, I think it’s worth pointing out that theater has outlived the radio, movies, and television, so I don’t think iPads are going to be the death blow. Similarly, prices for tickets to concerts and sports games continue to rise despite the fact that both are available on a variety of much cheaper media formats, and one could argue that segments of those industries aren’t exactly healthy either. There’s also the influence of popular shows like Glee and the variety of singing competition shows on television, all of which have introduced songs from musicals to new generations of listeners. While I wouldn’t argue that Broadway is doing healthy business — attendance has yet to reach pre-recession levels, only partially because of fewer productions — it’s not all grim.
Still, Spacey is correct that more could be done to promote theater to younger audiences. But what’s your point of view? Does theater need “saving,” and, if so, how can currently problems be fixed?