Tag Archives: Audience

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Handy Tips for Attending the Theater on a Budget

Theatre ticket booth on the northern side of Covent Garden market. © Copyright Colin Smith
Theatre ticket booth on the northern side of Covent Garden market. © Copyright Colin Smith

As anyone who goes to the theater on a regular basis knows, it is not always the cheapest pastime to have. You might want to see the latest smash hit, or maybe a fringe production that has received rave reviews. But, unless, you are rolling in money, what are the best ways to visit the theater on a budget?

In 2015, Broadway had 13.32 million* visitors to its theaters, while London’s West End saw 14.7 million† theater-goers coming through its doors. But with ticket prices continually on the increase, audience members are paying more and more. The average ticket price in the West End last year was £42.99, while the average price for a Broadway show was $103.11. However there are several ways to get to the theater regularly on the most modest of budgets and I have compiled some top tips, designed to protect your purse but continue to increase your love of theater!

Don’t Be Put Off by the Cheaper Seats

Of course the cheaper tickets offer good value and the opportunity to see a show we might not otherwise be able to afford. However, they are still expensive, and let’s face it, we’ve all experienced this–a production of Wicked in London almost ten years ago cost me a pretty big sum of money for two tickets, which allowed me to gaze at the top of tiny people’s heads for two hours. Sure, the music is amazing and the experience was brilliant, but I was frustrated by the limited view on the very back row of the Upper Circle (aka, the Balcony) in a particularly large theater.

View from an Upper Circle (aka Balcony). Photo Credit: Mikehume at English Wikipedia
View from an Upper Circle (aka balcony).
Photo Credit: Mikehume at English Wikipedia

However, I have since realized that, if you are savvy, the cheaper tickets can work to your advantage and here is how.

  • Check out the size of the theater:

It’s not much to do the math: the cheapest ticket in a large theater will probably result in you being sat in the gods, BUT if you consider the smaller theaters, a cheaper ticket may actually result in a good view and the satisfaction of knowing that you haven’t spent the earth. Having figured this out, a birthday trip to see One Man, Two Guvnors in London’s West End two years ago resulted in brilliant front row circle seats (in a small theater) with an excellent view and over half the price of the stalls.

  • Consider what ‘restricted view’ really means

Many seats are cheaper because they are listed as restricted view. However, most of the time, this does not mean that you lose a large proportion of the view. Instead you may lose the very top of an elevated head (case in point: the floating singers in Priscilla Queen of the Desert) or lose characters behind a flat two seconds earlier than those in the stalls.

Pay What You Can

In addition to looking at the cheapest tickets available, also keep an eye out for any Pay What You Can (PWYC) schemes. Some theaters run these, normally on a matinee or Sunday, and they offer a limited number of seats for an affordable donation. However, you have to be quick, as these tickets are first come, first sold!

Check Out Local Theater Schools or Drama Schools

If you are fortunate to live near a good drama college or university with a theater course, take a look at their graduate shows. These up and coming performers produce outstanding, professional shows as the culmination of a lot of hard work and training. If they are open to the public, these shows are a great way of seeing a production of quality at a reduced price. One of the best colleges in the UK to offer public graduate shows is the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA). Their graduate productions of Spring Awakening (my first time seeing it) and Cabaret (definitely not my first time) were not only great shows, but also served as a reminder of what talent there is in the next generation of actors.

Discover the Festivals

Now, of course, going to a performing arts festival is not necessarily a cheap option. Some of the biggest and most well-known festivals, such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, offer a wide variety of different plays, musicals, comedy etc in differing price brackets. Yes, many productions still cost a large amount but, equally, you can stumble across well-known classics performed affordably as a fringe show. However, if you choose to go to a larger festival, don’t be afraid to put in the research and go in with an open mind. For a couple of dollars, or possibly even for free, you may well discover a piece of performance that astounds the senses and makes you think differently about the theatrical experience. The Rhubarb Festival in the heart of Toronto is a perfect example of the opportunity to experience new writing that aims to explore contemporary theatrical discourse, and produce innovative and exciting pieces of work.

Advertising at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus in London's Theatreland. © Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.
Advertising at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus in London’s Theatreland.
© Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

If You Can, Be Flexible in Your Dates/Times

For the most part, prime seats in the stalls are going to be just as expensive on a Saturday night as on a Wednesday matinee, BUT there are potentially more opportunities to upgrade your ticket when the house is only half full. Now, this will not always happen, particularly if you’re going to a show during peak tourist season, but I have had several experiences where my back row ticket has been exchanged for a much better seat in the middle of the week. Often, if only a couple of tickets have been sold in the upper circle/circle, theaters will close this area off and upgrade you to the next level down. Several years ago, my circle ticket for Oliver! at the Theater Royal Drury Lane, London, was exchanged for a seat in the centre of the stalls, row G. Thank you very much! This also happened during Singin’ in the Rain and La Cage aux Folles, so it definitely was not a fluke, although it is by no means a fool proof method!

Although these tips cannot guarantee a cheaper ticket, every little helps in making a trip to the theater more affordable on a limited budget. Because, after all, we all need more theater in our lives!

*Broadway ticket statistics are taken from www.broadwayleague.com

†West End ticket statistics are taken from www.thestage.com

fringequeen

Top Tips on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival, with over 50,000 performances of 3,279 shows in nearly 300 venues across the city in 2016. It is held in August every year and, although that may seem like a long while away, it is really never too early to start planning for the Fringe!

Taking a show to the Fringe can be a daunting prospect and there are many options to consider:

What type of venue is best for your show? Large or intimate? City center or out of the main action? How do you promote it? How do you compete with the thousands of other shows appearing at the Fringe? Where do you stay?

Going to the Fringe is also one of the most exciting, exhilarating, and inspiring professional moments, and well worth the energy and effort. Who knows the impact your production may have? After all, the ground-breaking and innovative Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Jerry Springer: The Opera, both made their debut at the Edinburgh Fringe to critical acclaim.

fringestreetSo, with that in mind, here are a few tips to consider when taking a show to the Fringe.

Options on Where to Stay

Hotels during this time are expensive and, for most working actors/directors, not necessarily a financially viable option. You may also wish to consider that if you have a lot of show materials, props, costumes etc., a hotel room might become a little crowded. However, fortunately, the residents of Edinburgh are well used to making the most out of their apartments during the Fringe. Renting an apartment has many pros. You are flexible and ‘at home’ during your time in Edinburgh, you can squeeze as many people into a room as needed, and you achieve a more authentic festival experience.

Picking a Venue

Bear in mind that it is not just recognized theatres and halls that become show venues during the Fringe. Dance halls, church halls, meeting rooms, and pub rooms all become Fringe venues. For many smaller companies, these more intimate venues are often a much more financially viable option. Choosing a larger venue puts you riding alongside the bigger names and companies, but it will also cost you the same amount of big bucks. It really does depend on your background and aims for your show. However, a smaller venue has two important plus points: the actor/performer is able to engage with the audience on a much more intimate level, and potential empty seats do not seem as depressing as they might in a larger, emptier auditorium. This may sound a little cynical but predicting ticket sales is highly uncertain at the best of times. Remember, you are competing with over 3,000 shows! You may have 50 people in one night, and 2 the next. For most performers, the thrill of the Fringe cannot come from any potential income, but rather the experience and vibrancy of the performance itself. Don’t go too big unless you are sure!

Afternoons are also a slightly less frenetic time to put on your show and may provide bigger audiences. People tend to be freer and more likely to experiment. Any experienced Fringe-goer will have already planned their evenings out.

Another option is to advertise your show for free (yes, I said free) and then ask for donations upon leaving. This can end up bringing in more people and a bit more dosh!

fringestreetpeoplePromote, Promote, Promote!

Be prepared to put in the legwork at the festival. Thank goodness Edinburgh is not a huge city! The hub of the Fringe is also focused in the center of the city. However you must have as much promotional material as possible and disseminate it as widely and as frequently as you can. Being featured in the Fringe Guide is just not enough. The city is littered with flyers and posters and your promotional material has to make a dent. Every person you pass on the Royal Mile will almost certainly have at least 10 flyers clutched in their hands.

With that in mind……

You’ve Gotta Have a Gimmick

It may sound cheesy but a gimmick, a costume, or some sort of eye catching prop goes a long way towards making your show stand out and stick in the memory of a potential audience member. Before you start your show promotion, take a wander down the Royal Mile, through Princes Street Gardens, and on to the University grounds. It is a fascinating experience as with every step you will encounter a dynamic display designed to grab your attention and sell tickets! Embrace it and enjoy it! A day’s improvisation and/or public interaction on the street is an uplifting, entertaining, and frequently hilarious experience.

fringequeen

However, the top tip really is to ENJOY the Edinburgh  Festival Fringe! It is a fantastic place to be during August and, if you can, see as many shows as possible while you are there. The diversity, quality, and eccentricity on display is amazing. There really is nothing like it!

Editor’s Note: For more information about The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, deadlines for participating, and more, check out their website: https://www.edfringe.com/participants.

masks tya

Theatre for Young Audiences: An Enchanting Genre

CC0 License https://pixabay.com/en/festival-mass-kid-994132/Children’s Theatre gets a bad rap. It isn’t just productions of Annie, cast with future child stars, or Shrek, performed by a company of 12 year olds. People say, “It’s for children; adults just have to sit through it.” Or, even worse, some think it’s a fluff genre, with no substance. It’s as if a play for children doesn’t merit the same artistic credibility as a play for adults. Glitter, polka dots, and silly songs, can’t compare to Brecht, Stoppard, and Mamet.

These misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) is making waves, breaking molds, and giving artists endless creative opportunities fostering the future of theatre.

For Performers:

How often do you get the opportunity to personify a crayon? How about playing a ladybug? My guess is, not very often. But in the wonderful world of TYA, wacky, strange, and thoughtful roles exist in every production. There are no boring bit parts. The work is hard, but it’s worth it. Every role matters, and the audience will make sure you know that.

Kids are the toughest critics. They see the joy and truth in the world the rest of us have forgotten. There is no dumbing down of scripts for TYA—audiences are young, but sophisticated. They don’t laugh when adults laugh. They sense actors emotions, and they know when performers aren’t giving 100% to their character. Acting for an audience of K-12 gives actors a thicker skin, while landing a special level of celebrity status. YOU are the infamous Fancy Nancy, or Pippi Longstocking, or Frog and Toad those children have spent so much time reading about, dressing up as, or dreaming to meet someday. You’ve brought their fantasies to life in front of them, no TV set required. That, my friends, is magical.

Photo Credit: Hanay
Photo Credit: Hanay

For Lovers of New Work:

Children’s publishing never has a dry spell. More picture books, chapter books, and epic rhyming poems take the page every year, ready for theater adaptation. Age-appropriate adaptations based on the classics is over—all the cool books become plays now. Nothing boring, nothing you wouldn’t want to watch yourself. Plays for children are no longer, strictly, plays for children. They are as smart and insightful as the books they are based on. Fly Guy, the story of a boy and his fly best friend; Fancy Nancy, the girl that loves to dress fancy; and the crazy adventures of Ivy and Bean are nothing like the stories that used to take the stage.

Authors are optioning their book rights to individual theatres or group of theatres, with plans to develop, write, and coproduce world premieres. We’re talking cutting-edge theatre about flies, spies, buddies, and bullies. This not only gives playwrights and directors the opportunity to develop new work, but it also gives designers the opportunity to be the first to create these characters and their environments. The rate at which TYA new works are being made today is staggering in comparison to the number of plays and musicals written for adults that hardly see a workshop let alone an actual stage. TYA new works are getting produced, period.

For Artists Looking to Make a Difference:

For many children, their first TYA experience is their first theatrical experience. Some parents might not be theatregoers themselves, but want to seek out enriching family experiences. The chances of those children and those adults seeing more theatre after their TYA introduction is huge. Future theatre audiences are cultivated during each performance. Early exposure to the arts sparks creativity in future innovators of the world. The children are our future, and TYA gives them an early introduction to the arts.

For children whose might not be able to afford shows, many TYA companies hold student matinees. Teachers have the opportunity to expand curriculum—focusing lessons around a play’s original book and themes, before and after seeing the show. Kids experience theatre etiquette and art appreciation, making connections between their lives, their books, and an art form they otherwise might never experience.masks tya: CC0 https://pixabay.com/en/festival-mass-kid-994132/

For Fun-Seeking Artists:

At the end of the day, we play pretend for a living. But, sometimes it’s nice to know the playing doesn’t have to be so serious. Developing, producing, and performing works for children challenges in the adult brain. Will this musical number hold the attention of a five year old? If not, how can we make it? Does this costume read as cat, but also give the audience a human to identify with? Is this lighting too scary? Can we get a grant to fund more scholarship field trips? These are questions asked every day in the world of TYA. The work is still hard, but after every performance, the entryway fills with dozens of excited little voices, ready to meet their favorite characters, read more stories, and eventually see more plays.

actor complain

A Little Perspective

This week we’re taking a slight diversion away from our normal “how to” vibe, and treading out into deeper waters.  

If you’ve read the byline below, you know that I’m currently a standby in the NYC Off-Broadway mainstay, The Fantasticks. And since you’ve been following the StageAgent blog religiously, you know that as a standby, I’m often in a Starbucks during most performances (it’s a tough life). Well, circumstances have resulted in me being on for the last couple of weeks as Hucklebee, one of the Fathers in the show.  

Fantaticks logo

My initial response was, “Damn, there goes all my free time.” I mean seriously, I have two guaranteed hours (four on two-show days!) to write, to plan, to concentrate on what’s next, to make a grocery list…you get the idea. As a parent of two small children, time is at a premium. But you may think I’ve completely missed the boat, that I should be elated at having a performing opportunity—and you’d be right, it just took me a couple of days to get here. Well, a couple of days and a close friend who reminded me that performing is always better than not performing, and a wife who said simply to do the job I was hired to do.  

So I’ve been doing the show, and after a few performances, it began to feel comfortable and, dare I say it, enjoyable. I’m truly blessed with a giving, loving, talented cast, who were there for me when I said some…questionable lines…let’s say. Soon I’ll be back to my coffee and protein bistro box (pretentious twit), but for now it’s a blast.

That isn’t to say that it all comes without challenges. There was the stress of being ready, as this was my first time going on in any of the roles I cover. June was a crazy busy month, with school ending for my children, their activities coming to a close (dance class, gymnastics), new activities starting (summer swim team, more gymnastics, theatre camp is coming)—frankly I’m exhausted. And with school ending, I’m the primary caregiver as well, as that lady that makes our lives possible (my wife) works 50-60 hours a week. Caring for the kids is an all-day job, and when I’m relieved of duty at 6:15 pm, then it’s time to go to work!  

I know, I know, poor me—I’m getting somewhere I promise.

A weekend or so back (Pride weekend, I believe), I was walking from the show to my car (I drive on Sundays when the parking is free) when I locked eyes with a woman, probably around my age. I nodded in that weird New Yorker “I’m acknowledging you, but I promise I’m not crazy” way, and kept going, but about ten feet later, I feel her tap my shoulder. She said to me (and all of this is paraphrased to the best I can remember), “Excuse me, but didn’t I see you in The Fantasticks last Saturday? The show was so great!”

I thanked her, and we struck up a short conversation. Her name was Ellen, and she too was an actor. Her family had just come in from Texas, and her mother wanted to see two shows, Les Miserables and The Fantasticks. I remembered the performance she was at, and it was a good show, with a lively, responsive audience.  

We were slightly above Hell’s Kitchen, she lived in the neighborhood. I told her I used to live close by, but moved to New Jersey when my wife and I had our first child. She seemed lovely, genuinely interested in praising the show and chatting with a stranger.  But as we began to say goodbye, she said this, and it practically floored me:

“Well, you’re married, have two kids, a great show to be in, you really are living the dream!”

I swear the blood ran out of my face. I thought, “Wow…if you only knew.”

Look, I preach a lot of positivity and self-love and self-reliance, but let’s be real for a moment. This life is hard. I’ve talked before about the sacrifices and the lack of money and the disappointment and having to pick yourself up over and over and over again…it’s exhausting. And sometimes, maybe even lots of times, we as actors choose to complain. We have to let out these feelings of discouragement. It’s only human, and we aren’t to be punished for it, but it can take over and become our default position.

actor complain

I’ve been super lucky in this career:  two Broadway shows, four National Tours, lots of amazing Regional Theatre—yet somehow I tend to retreat to how little money I’ve made in my lifetime, or how quickly those two shows (which I loved) closed in New York, or how I’m not certain where my path is leading as I get older. Currently, though I’m absolutely proud to be part of the New York theatre tapestry if you will, even my current job can seem like a glass half full. I think it’s a terrific show, with great people and a timeless message, but let’s face it, we’re not Wicked or The Lion King. It can be hard to be a simple, sweet, and sentimental show when you are surrounded by flying monkeys and herds of animals.  

I thanked Ellen, wished her luck and continued to my car, half smiling with gratitude yet shaking my head. “If she only knew… .”

But she does know. It was me who didn’t. Everything she said was absolutely true, and as I repeated this story a few times, I began to realize it myself.  

I’m sure there will come a time…or many times…when I fall back into the old habits of diminishing what I have accomplished. A director friend I love told me once, “You know how New Yorkers survive? They complain. They look at each other across the subway car and say, ‘man, it’s @#$%ing hot outside.’ They take solace in a short of shared misery.” Maybe we as actors do exactly that, we share our misery so it eases the sting, until we can celebrate a new win.  

So for me, a little perspective and a lesson learned. Ellen, if you’re out there, if this message somehow reaches you (go viral troopers, serve your dark Web overlords!), good luck to you again, and thank you for stopping me.  

And also, thank you for stopping me.

Theatre community

Community: A Theatrical Necessity

When I first began directing, to me, the play was the thing.  My mind was focused on the goings on of the stage with limited awareness beyond its borders. It seemed that dealing with the audience was somebody else’s job. If I directed a great play, I thought, people would come and like it. Job done.  “Why this play now?” was a philosophical, intellectual question—but not something I really  confronted in an educational setting. 

I have since concluded that community engagement must be a part of every theatre-making process.  In the professional world, I’m finding myself pushed to think about the audience more actively, and am so thankful for it — both as an artist and as a citizen. Now, as the Community Engagement Manager at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT, I am certain:  community engagement is not just something that’s nice to do, tangential to the theatre-making process – it is essential to the creation of the art itself.   

There is no theatre without an audience. The audience is as much a part of the playmaking experience as the artists—so how do we incorporate them more actively into what we do? We must work with them – and I’ve learned, in so doing, that working with the community teaches me just as much or more about the play on which I’m working than anything I do in the rehearsal room or on stage.  

Community engagement at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT.

How does that central dramaturgical question—”Why this play now?” — manifest in the rehearsal room, the theatre, the greater community around your theatre? What conversation are you tapping into? How does the work connect to everything else happening in your community? What people do you want to be a part of that conversation? Why this play now? and with whom?

At Long Wharf Theatre, I spend every day building bridges between the work happening on our stages and what’s already happening in the Greater New Haven area. I work to find new ways to partner with other organizations, invite new people into the theatre and find ways for the theatre to be a good neighbor and citizen to the City of New Haven.   Here are some of the takeaways:

  1. Create programming that speaks to the issues of your community and draws an audience that will be invested in the work.

Taking a step back— how can we all, as theater practitioners, create programming with the community (the audience) in mind? In order to have great conversations, you have to ask — How does the play fit the audience and the audience fit the play? Does your company have an audience already? Are you looking for new communities? For me, this means inclusive, wide ranging voices and faces on the stage. If the theatre focuses on a singular perspective, the audience will reflect that.

For instance, last season at LWT, we produced Kimber Lee’s brownsville song (b-side for tray).  Tragically, this play resonates deeply in the New Haven community, where many people have grieved and grieve lives lost to urban gun violence.  It also happens to be a really powerfully written piece of art.  Neither was lost on our artistic director when he made this choice.  This play told a powerful story that needed to be hear in our community.   All told, brownsville brought a thousand new people into our theatre.

The play provided a platform of empathy on which to begin an open conversation about the violence in our community and how, together, we might begin to heal. It was a remarkably unpolitical conversation.  Instead, confronted with humanity in the context of story, the community came together around a search to understand.  We had an incredible breadth of different kinds of people in our audience, listening to each other, and talking about what happened on stage and what’s happening in our community.

A fantastic example of this was our Sunday Symposium moderated by director Eric Ting, with Erik Clemons and Joe Brummer, which you can watch online here: 

 

2.  Partner with other community organizations to extend your reach into the community and continue the conversation outside of the theatre.  

For instance—we have an unbelievable partnership with the New Haven Free Public Library through which we host community conversations at local branches with readings of scenes, offer a free pass to the theatre (with a library card) and there’s a full bookshelf in our theatre lobby for patrons to browse and even check out books related to the play. Through this partnership, we’re able to bring stories to communities and communities to the theatre and encourage conversation at every level.  

Going back to brownsville for a moment, one of the ways that we were able to build on our onstage work was by hosting a convening in conjunction with the incredible Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.  We called it, “Gun Violence in Our Community: In Search of Understanding and Empathy”. You can watch some of it here

brownsville is a beautiful, harrowing piece of art — but it was made all the more powerful because of the context in which it was told.  This play needed to be told at this moment in time, in this specific community and with this specific community.  Community engagement throughout the process allowed this play to provide us with the opportunity to connect more deeply to our community, to connect parts of the community to one another, and — together — to work towards a better, safer, fuller New Haven.  

3.  Listen to your audience.  

The root of all good engagement is listening. Not listening for what you want to hear, but for the needs of the community and for the possibility of what you – artists and audience – can do together.  At Long Wharf Theatre, we hold talkbacks after every performance of every show.

After the curtain comes down, I get to ask the audience, “What are you still thinking about?” I get to ask the audience what they’re thinking. Not if it’s good or bad or if it they would buy a ticket again – but what did they really think the play was about?  What did they take away? It’s an incredible opportunity get to know our audiences better—understand them, trust them, respect them and be one with them.

Community engagement is something that you can begin at any point in the creative process, but its impact is greatest when it begins at the beginning.  Our choice to tell stories should exist in the same moment that we identify an audience who needs to hear that story – now, in this context, in this time, and in this medium.  The best relationship with an audience begins dramaturgically, at the beginning of a rehearsal process. We must ask: How can we keep our minds open to the audience we have and also to the audience we want and the audience with whom we hope to collaborate? How do we enter a community and work with new people, learn from them and hope they learn from us? Partner with our similar goals and share resources. Work with them and never for them. Theatre isn’t a service—it’s a collaboration. 

News, thoughts, opinions and advice for the performing arts community.