DC-area theatre lovers got some good news and some bad news this week.
The good news is that Washington, D.C. continues to be a robust theatre town. According to data which the Helen Hayes Awards released this week, 2007 saw the dawn of six new theatre companies (and the sunset of three), an increase in the number of shows produced from 434 to 454, and a vigorous 5.3% increase in the number of productions – from 7648 to 8050. Twenty-five theaters reported an increase in attendance, while only twenty-two reported a decline.
The bad news is that for the fifth year in a row, overall attendance declined in 2007. Paid attendance was 1,908,557, a decrease of 36,912, or 1.9%, from 2006, according to the annual Helen Hayes Awards survey. (This number includes audiences for all professional companies but does not include the roughly 19,000 attendees at the Washington Fringe Festival).
Helen Hayes President and CEO laid part of the blame on the recession. “In an uncertain economy,” she noted, “art is often among the first things to be eliminated from discretionary spending.”
We agree, as far as it goes. 2007 was a rough year, for Washington and the country. But can that explain a five-year decline? During the past five years, Washington has experienced a renaissance of sorts, including a noticeable rise in the area-wide standard of living, significant economic and quality-of-life recovery by the City, and a theatrical building boom that has touched Studio, Signature, Olney, Shakespeare, Round House and – soon – Arena. So why hasn’t this been accompanied by an increased interest in theatre?
We don’t think it’s an issue of quality. From what we’ve seen, quality has improved as brilliant new talents like Alexander Strain, Kimberly Gilbert, Aaron Posner and John Vreeke have established themselves. And the proliferation of theatre companies has resulted in coverage of a wide range of niches – including thoughtful Christian (Journeyman Theater) and Jewish (Theater J) productions, new plays (Charter Theater), new musicals (Signature), contemporary Irish theatre (Solas Nua and Keegan’s New Island Project) and cutting-edge drama (Rorschach, Forum, Washington Shakespeare Theatre). We have two theaters devoted to Shakespeare – Folger and Shakespeare Theatre. We now even have a company devoted to plays about science (Active Cultures).
So what’s happening? We thought we’d turn the question over to the experts – you, the Washington theatre-going (and theatre-growing) community. Why do you think attendance has been in a five-year decline? And what do you think ought to be done about it? Let’s generate a conversation – not, please, about gripes you may have with individual productions or individual theatre companies – but about the overall issues which you think are affecting the sustainable life of this community.
Let’s find some solutions. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Jeannette Jaquish says
I am often disappointed when I go to a live theater show. Lots of plays such as God of Carnage or the stage version of Two reasons: shows are often not what they are advertised to be, and people think theater is for special occasions not regular entertainment. I often regret going to the show once I am watching it. For example, God of Carnage and Lord of the Flies were disappointing. Carnage dragged on and on with obvious ploys such as one person leaving the room so the others can talk about him or her and then that person walks in and hears it, and the same argument over and over. Lord of the Flies had steady arguing all the way through and lacked many significant moments in the book that easily could have been kept in the show. I write plays, good exciting, witty, and often twist ending plays at very low prices but rarely does an established theater buy one; I sell mostly to schools or amateur theaters. I ran a theater 3.5 years and put on 2 or 3 performances EVERY weekend for $5 or $6 a ticket — Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Frog Prince and original works. The audiences were nearly all family of the actors. The public would show up for the Christmas show or Wizard of Oz because those are special, familiar classics. People only go to live theater for special times or to see a relative perform. Years after I closed, people would call to see what we had performing because they had a relative coming to visit and they wanted to take them out for something special. In between, they had not attended and so did not know we had closed.
Theater sucks movies are taking over
Just wondering what the fine folks at Helen Hayes, dcthetrescene and interested theatres are still pondering. This topic just died. And it seems of nothing changed. Somewhat of a waste of talented collective thought.
Jeff Crotty says
Hi all. Some great comments and suggestions. I am on a theater board for a local high school in a small town in the Midwest that is asking the same question about putting butts in the seats. Interestingly, we have a new 350 seat theater in town that is part of a huge restaurant complex ad it does quite well with the older, Christian segment but there’s not much else offered there.
You all have given me some great information to ponder and bring for discussion to the board.
It seems clear that a dominant thought is that their is limited involvement of younger people in theater. My experiences are not different at the high school level which is somewhat alarming when students done attend the plays and musicals in their own school (no football team at this school either! hmmmm).
Thanks for the insights and comments. BTW, what’s Ronnie all ticked off about? Sounded like he made some great comments along with others. Can’t everyone have a perspective.
Thanks again. Peace
To those theatregoers that are ending their subscription at big theatres, due to the cost….may I suggest investing in some of D.C.’s fine non-equity houses? There are plenty of good, small theatres offering quality work, for a price at and around $15-20 per ticket. Affordable and accessible work, and daring work, too.
Longacre Lea, Rorschach, Forum, Catalyst, Constellation, Solas Nua, Journeymen. These are quality theaters producing quality work.
if you think attendance is declining now,wait one year.this will drop by 400,000. as they say,it’s money,stupid.critics are more concerned with their own jobs but their over intellectualized reviews will keep killing the theatre.lower prices. eliminate critics.have people who attend give their published opinions.of course,this will not happen and theatre will diminish….also for plays the audinece is upper middle class. this segment of the population has1.7 children.most children born now will rarely if ever enter a theatre as an adult.
Just another plug for the vibrant YOUTH in our community who are actively engaged in Theatre…
2008 National Capital Area CAPPIE Nominees just announced!
Diane C., I and several others offered ideas above about how to get kids in the theater. I hope you and others have read these.
I think the point about managing a season is important. If you want subscribers (and let’s face it, subscribers guarantee your income), then you need to do a mix of familiar and new work. If you do all familiar, you tend to lose the more avid theater-goer who wants a variety. However, if you only do new theater, you might lose people who are infrequent theater-goers who have to choose how to spend their money.
It’s a careful balance. I know we used to have a subscription to Arena, but the year that they did 7 of 7 African American plays, it was too much for us and we decided that that was the one of our subscriptions that we would have to let go. This coming season, Signature (our favorite theater in the metro area) is doing 5 new features. Due to having to balance costs, we’ve decided that we will not subscribe, but will go to select shows on the roster. Signature is a little too pricey and for us, we decided that we’ll only do 3 or 4 of the shows and not all 5. I know that we’re not alone in the way that we view theater. I think that when competing for entertainment participation, theaters have to mix up what they do and make sure that they keep some new and some familiar in their mix to keep subscribers coming back.
I suppose I am in the minority, but I am a 20-something that sees almost everything I can get to via Metro or a short bus/cab ride from a Metro. I usher at many theatres (often amidst of seniors who look at me weird) and have a subscription at a couple of theatres that I can’t get to on time to be an usher (Signature). I don’t make an insane salary, but theatre is what I love and how I choose to spend my free time and money.
As far as the decline, I can attribute it to ticket cost as well as awareness/competition for attention. I work for a large bureaucracy filled with 50-somethings and most everyone I talk to perceives theatre as being too expensive or just something you go see at National or the Kennedy Center as a night out on occasion.
Next season? I am not renewing some of my subscriptions. Too many shows that I just saw in NY on the list at area theatres and not enough truly new stuff. I know that “saw it already a short time ago” problem is not a general one, but it could have an impact on the avid theatre-goer attendance if this trend continues, especially those of us who schlep up to NY every season to catch the new stuff on and off broadway.
Good question,Janet. One that could be very interesting. In response, we’ve just started a new discussion ‘So Why Do You Go to Theatre?’
See you there!
I would like to request DC Theatrescene do a similar survey asking readers why they go to the theatre. That is a subject that is interesting to me. In fact, I ask myself that sometimes – as weird as it seems.
Diane C. says
Although Ronnie has indicated he won’t be posting again, I wonder if anyone has ideas about bringing in more youths to theatre. Most theatres do offer discounts to them and some are fairly reasonable. Many theatres, as I have said, do have special programs with the schools.Thanks to Joel and others, we have podcasts and blogs.
I do have to disagree about people going to the theatre to see works they know they’ll enjoy .. “the standards.” One of the reasons I’m such a fan of Studio, Woolly, Theatre J, Synetic, Catalyst (look at their gutsy prices right now!) and others is because I get to see productions that are so amazingly new and novel. “Souvenir” was one of the best plays I’d ever seen — but yes, I still enjoy “My Fair Lady” and just about any classic at the Stage Guild. I do agree that many theatres must “bank” on the tried and tested in order to fill in with the more original works… which is too bad. Any talented grant writers out there? Which establishments ARE providing grants?
The only way I can see so much (and if I had more time, I’d see much more) is by volunteering and ushering — certainly a great option for the retired who are still energetic or older youths. I can’t begin to calculate what I save. Ushering allows me to enter a world that I love — so it’s a double bargain to me and I’d like to think I help the theatres, too. I’ve heard from many that they can’t devote the time it takes — and I do understand those constraints.
Traffic in DC has gotten so much worse in the last 20 yrs. And now that I work and live in VA, I’ve had to let Olney, Round House, Rep Stage and others (and forget Balto’s Center Stage, etc) become rarities though this isn’t my preference. If we had a metro like NYC’s subway, how great that would be! Terrific re the shuttles.
Compared to wkend prices at many theatres, the Fringe productions are very low cost. Word of mouth is very effective among many of us (Footlights, Ushers, etc) so reviews aren’t always necessary. We’ve got favorite actors and if they’re performing, we’ll also go.
Netty Smith says
It’s a bit pricy, but that’s not my primary reason for not attending. Inconvenient location (for me) is the primary reason. I don’t want to deal with traffic or the metro after commuting all week and working long hours. The temporary location of the Arena Theatre in Crystal City is perfect. I’m there in 5 minutes with plenty of good restaurants all around. I’m going to attend all that I can while it’s in this area.
Joel Markowitz says
I also wanted to comment on Ted and Barbara Ying’s suggestion about getting a group of friends together to carpool to the theatre. It’s a great idea! I try to get a group together everytime I plan an outing. We have been carpooling Ushers members since day one, and I have been very fortunate that people like Cheryl Leibovitz have beem so generous to do so. Supporting our local theatres must be a group effort.
Also, if you join The Ushers and Footlights’ lists, you have a built in group of theatregoers who you can email to join you on your theatre outing.
Jack Grossman says
I was a subscriber to Olney for a long time and gave it up because I have a difficult time getting there, now that I don’t drive. I will be writing a letter to them today, about the shuttle suggestion.Thanks for bringing it up. I would resubscribe if I could get to the theater from the Glenmont Metro.
Rosalie Johnson says
I think the shuttle idea is great! The only way for me to get from my home in Rockville to Olney on the weekend is begging friends to drop me off and pick me up. I love Olney’s work, and I could get there more often if there was a shuttle, because I don’t want to wait an hour or more for a bus on a cold or rainy or humid day.
Joel Markowitz says
I don’t drive, and I wish that more theatres would consider getting a shuttle to pick up and return theatre goers to their theatres, and back to the metro, for those of us who don’t have cars.
Atlas Theatre has a shuttle from Union Station and that makes it so easy to get to H Street Playhouse also. Thank you Atlas!
I wish Olney Theater and Signature Theatre would do the same. I can’t tell you how many times theatre goers who also don’t drive have told me that they would love to see shows at Olney and Signature, but they just don’t want the hassle of schlepping on the metro and transferring ro a bus or two. It will help fill up their houses, and bring “new blood” into their theatres.
Frankly, I donlt have a problem taking the 7C or 7F bus or the 22A bus from the Pentagon Metro station. I’m glad these buses get you two short blocks from SIgnature’s door.
These buses run everyday of the week and run late – some past 1 AM
– pleanty of time to get back to the metro after an evening performance. And on the weekends, the 22A now runs every 20 minutes. It’s a short – less than 10 minute -) bus ride to Shirlington. But, I do understand others who find this a hassle. A special thanks to Janet who taught me all the bus routes to Signature.
I have a member of The Ushers (www.ushers.us) who schleps two hours on buses to get to most theatres in the area, and her trip could be cut probably 1/3 if there were shuttles from the metro.
I also wanted to comment on the new Arena location, which some of you spoke about. I love it! How convenient is it for metro riders like me to have Arena right in the metro station, and to have choices to eat before and after the show. I never had these food choices at the SW location, (I couldn’t afford the high prices of the waterfront restaurants) so it’s so nice to be able to grab something affordable to eat before the show at Crystal City. I do understand that driving there during the week must be time consuming, but Arena does provide free parking, so that should compensate for the schlep some of you have to endure.
Again, thanks for your comments. They are most appreciated.
Joel Markowitz says
I want to thank all of you for spending the time to post your comments here, about why attendance is dropping at our local theatres. Like many of you, I am in the theatre allot, and everywhere I have gone this year, there has rarely been a sell-out, or even more than 2/3 of a theatre filled up, in both the larger and smaller theatres. It worries me.
Because of your comments and this discussion, the theatre commmunity is listening to you. I attended the Helen Hayes Awards ceremony and stayed quite late at the post-performance party, and actors and theatre administrators were talking about this discussion.They are “waking up” and are grateful for your comments and suggestions..
I have posted my last comment on a site I started. Good luck with the site folks.
I will always tell the truth as I see it. If I feel that I cannot be honest and open I see no reason to post here.
That is a sad day for me.
Ronnie R says
Cheryl: I would be willing to bet you that if you actually polled the young people you see at these theatres you will find that they are:
Actors or in theatre programs in school.
Related to theatre goers
Friends of the actors in the productions.
My point is we are not bringing in new blood. Kids not connected to theatre do not know it even exists or that it is something other than the Kennedy Center. Kids are bombarded by media advertising everything but theatre. I can tell you that the smaller companies do not have the money to advertise or do not even think it is that important. As to the big theatres they advertise in the theatre sections of print media where these kids do not even go. If I wanted to hide theatre ads from kids I could not do a better job! The marketing is aimed at an aging audience and it is a losing campaign.
2. Programming — Did you ever think that sometimes you have to program plays that audiences actually want to see? As a die-hard theatre aficionado, and yes, a snob who enjoys the esoteric, I am often astounded by artistic directors who do not recognize that they MUST program plays that will appeal to the masses in order to get people in to see the rest of the work they will produce throughout the season. Note, you don’t have to do an entire season of Bye Bye Birdie, but an entire season of Russian plays? We all know how well it went for the Studio — and, they certainly lost me after that one.
3. Competition — As more and more venues open up around town, people can be choosy. The choosier you become, the less likely you are to see things that you don’t recognize or have an inkling about.
4. Advertising/Critics — Peter Marks needs to get his head out of New York and start reviewing more plays in town. He’s not doing anybody any favors by splitting his time between NY and DC. The plays in DC need his attention.
Ted- I see you meant. I was assuming that you were taking the metro to Crystal City not driving. I agree – that drive from southwest DC to Arlington is a bear during the weekday rush hour. That was my daily comute for many years.
My favorite resource for what’s playing is the Potomac Stages weekly e-newsletter. I have forwarded that to many friends who say they have no idea what plays are going on. (I also love that when they’ve reviewed a play the run time is listed–it’s a big help to know if an 8 pm Thursday show will get me home after bed time on a work night.)
I agree with the folks who say that reviews are important. Good reviews are what brought me to see plays in companies that I am now a subscriber to. If there is a play that I want to see, a bad review won’t deter me. But a good review can make a difference if I’m on the fence.
I feel really lucky to be in Washington at a time when there is so much good theater. It enriches my life in countless ways.
Actually, the traffic in Southeast is significantly easier to deal with than the downtown-Rosslyn-Shirlington-Crystal City area is. The unfortunate problem is that a lot of the loss of business for many theaters (from my experience) is from suburbanites who are having problems commuting. Virginians and Marylanders are not as willing as they used to be to travel around the beltway or across the river or downtown. I know many folks even in the Montgomery County area who aren’t as willing to travel to Northern Virginia sites as they used to be and I have a harder time getting NoVa friends up here to out neck of the woods.
My point was not to pick on Arena itself. The point is that commuting anywhere in the metro area is getting harder and harder and people are reverting back to looking for entertainment that is closer to where they live. Especially on weeknights. So, theaters need to find a way to draw new people from nearby. For both professional and amateur theater, you need to find a way to get the population within 10-15 miles of your location to come out. You can’t rely on good advertisement to drag people in from the far corners of the metro area anymore. Other options is to increase the number of performances on Saturdays and Sundays. Despite the fact that is is very difficult to do a double-header, theaters that do Sat/Sun doubles tend to do better than ones with only Fri/Sat/Sun performances.
Ted- I can’t imagine that Arena in Southwest Washington was much more convenient to you then Arena in Crystal City. While the Crystal City venue might not be the ideal venue I bet that it was about as good a choice as Arena had for the transitional period. I mean they’ve got a large venue that’s dedicated to them…they don’t have to compete for that space with anyone. However, I certainly understand the situation you folks find yourself in.
Well, the temporary location of Arena is just a few steps, all inside, from the Metro stop. You can’t plaese some people. There is no place that is convenient to everybody. The home location of Arena Stage is not convenient for me.
Everyone makes good points and yet, the Fringe is about to launch year 3 and if it’s anything like the first two years, there will be lines out the door for many shows.
The venues are all over the place, the scripts often brand new, the scheduling completely atypical, the production values “shoestring” no reviews, (those that even appear), have time to come out before a show is over and none of that hurts the Fringe.
It was pointed out above that nearly a third of shows currently up or about to open cost $20 (or less if you do a pwyc or Goldstar.) So why does theater that doesn’t cost much more than the Fringe do less business? Part of it is obviously “Fringe Fever” but is that all? “Fringe Fever” is just a state of mind. Why is it so much harder to go to H St or wherever when it’s not 95 degrees, it’s not 10 o’clock at night and you’ve heard of the show?
Ted Ying says
I have to say, that convenience plays a huge part in our ability to attend certain shows. On Friday we went to see the Arena production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. We had to commute via Metro (which is 20 minutes from our home) since we’ve tried commuting to Crystal City/Shirlington at rush hour before and it takes us over an hour and a half from the PG County/Greenbelt/Laurel area. Unfortunately, the trip home took us an hour and 20 minutes just to get to the Greenbelt Metro station since we had to wait 16 and then 14 minutes for the two trains and for some reason the trains were moving slower than usual. So, we left the theater at 11:00 and got home at 12:45.
In general, will tend to avoid any theater inside the beltway except on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s too difficult to get in and out of town on weekdays. And then for those where we have to pay parking…even worse.
I really think that picking Crystal City for the temporary location of Arena was a poor idea. If they had gone across the river towards the new Nationals park area, I think they would have had better success. My experience wasn’t singular. I’ve heard from theater-going friends that the new location is poor (I won’t even go into the facility itself) and inconvenient. Some of my friends who were subscribers did not subscribe this season due to the new location. Theaters need to think about accessibility to their theaters when they select locations or move.
Rosalind Lacy MacLennan says
To Janet: I don’t know the answer is the reason I didn’t respond directly to your excellent question. Maybe one of the dramaturgs or theater managers could tell us, if they are on-line to read our comments. I would venture to say that Arena is doing all right, based on almost full houses for the Miller retrospective. Also the GALA’s Blood Wedding, by Garcia Lorca, a classic with philosophical insight, poetic language, beautiful surrealist set design, a rarely produced, challenging classic of modern Spanish Theater. The performance we attended, they were bringing in extra chairs to seat an overflow. The GALA takes risks with new plays, like the one by Venezualan Gustavo Ott. Primarily GALA sticks to their mission of the Spanish Golden Age, their history, their heritage. “Doubt” at Olney seemed to do okay. It’s tough for us to get an overview based on one or two performances we may see. Rosalind
Bah! Nobody responded to my question: Which theaters saw an increase in attendance? Maybe we can learn something from them?
Rosalind Lacy MacLennan says
I’ve been following this discussion with avid interest. Theater in live performance will never die. There will always be “nuts” like us around, (referring to Ronnie Ruff’s comment). I liked the comment about the Miller retrospectives. I agree. I love drama from historical periods, insights into our own American experience, what it means to be American. I guess that’s because basically I love the theater because– of all the forms of art– live performance on stage puts life up there where I feel I can touch it, walk in and be a part of it. It opens a window to history, philosophy and other points of view. It helps me live. Once I saw a Greek play performed in Athens, Greece, and it changed my life. Then I saw Euripedes’ The Bacchae, at Stratford, Canada, that so terrified me, I came out of the theater trembling with the memory of a human being being mutilated and torn apart by the Bachhae, a frenzied bunch of women,followers of Dionysus. It was far, far less graphic than any Hollywood techno-splattering of blood, (what I grew up with in L.A.) but in my mind, that staged experience on a horse-shoe, thrust stage was horrific. Maybe it was because all my fears of the human capacity for cruelty, for the out-of-control forces in human nature, were played out. Or I wonder if it’s because I fear the concealed cruelty in other women. All I know is I came out of the theater feeling better, more balanced, more alive and gentled toward others around me, and I never forgot that play-going experience.
Bottom line, it’s the prices. People’s pockets are not bottomless. But keep the faith. We will always act out. Theater makes it safe. We still wake up alive the next morning. Rosalind Lacy MacLennan
There is interest in the kids page on this site. I have submitted ideas twice to this site and have never heard back–maybe I did not have the correct address.
Anyway, if you want interest in the kid’s site, there needs to be more activity on the page. There is not much there. Why was no one interested? Maybe a better question is how do you know there was no interest?
Kids in the area ARE actually very interested in theater. Has anyone here been involved or observed the CAPPIES program? This is HUGE in High School Drama. Maybe theaters could take advantage of this huge pool of interested kids. Set up partnerships; some existing programs…Round House Theatre has the Sarah Play… Journeymen Theater use to (don’t know if they still do) have a mentoring program with Herndon High School. Wouldn’t it be neat if students from XYZ High were invited to see an open rehearsal of an STC production or help build sets for a Scena Theater production? Maybe these are unrealistic ideas but there are countless other opportunites where area high school kids could be exposed to the vast amount of professional theater opportunities in our area — workshops, meet the artists, hands-on stage craft, behind the scenes tours, artist consultation for high school drama productions. Many of these opportunities are inexpensive.
How about if a group of CAPPIE Nominees perform a number at the Helen Hayes awards or a group of Helen Hayes nominees attend a CAPPIE’s reception? Local professional actors, directors, designers, etc…support a mixed workshop where kids can meet and learn from their local professionals?
For starters, maybe a link to the CAPPIES program and/or high school productions be added to this site. Are you aware that there are students who are trained to be CAPPIE Reviewers?–these students write the reviews for the CAPPIE productions. Maybe some of these kids would be interested in reviewing programs for DCTheatreScene!
Please don’t write off the younger generation to video games, movies, ipods, etc…the CAPPIES speak for the depth and breadth of interest that theater (both onstage and offstage) sparks in our local youth!
Ronnie- I think that you’ve got a good point. I bet there is something to the fact that the audiences around here are older and each year some of those folks are dropping out of the scene for one reason or another and not being proportionally replaced.
Where I disagree with you is that there are two professional theater companies in particular where I see loads of younger people. Those are Synetic and Teatro de la Luna. As far as community theaters go I’ve notices large number of young people at the Elden Street Players, Kensington Arts, and the the Reston Community Players. All 3 of these community theaters do some very nice work in my opinion- often on the same level as some of the professional theaters and with some of the same actors. By the way Teatro de la Luna offers baby-sitting service provided that patrons request this service in advance. These theater companies are doing something right!
Ronnie R says
This is one case where it “It Is NOT The Economy Stupid“. This is not about last year or even last week. I have been hearing this ever since DCTR started.
What are the constants?
1. Theatre nuts like us.
2. Actors and their extended friends and family.
3. Long time subscribers
Of this group each year a certain number of theatre goers get older and no longer attend due to health or simply death.
Who replaces them? Not the young because no one targets them. DCTS had a desire to start a Kids Theatre site, no one was interested! Sports, Live Music, Video Games, Film and now HD TV blitz them with ads. Everyone better wake up or someday live theatre as you now know it will be a thing of the past in DC.
It is mareting plain and simple.. Actually the lack of it. The “If You Produce It They Will Come” mentality is in play and surprise!!! does not work.
Dear readers –
Soaring ticket prices seems to be the #1 reason given for the drop in attendance, so we had a look. We were surprised to learn that of the 31 productions now playing or opening this month, 10 had non-discounted tickets of $20 or less.
So – as a result of your comments, ONSTAGE NOW has been changed from an alpha list to one grouped by ticket price. Check it out here:
Further discounts are available from the individual theatres, from TICKETPLACE,GOLDSTAR (see their advert on this page, and by checking in every day to DCTS’ HOT TICKETS
Thanks Ted, for the clarification… I think I must have misunderstood the situation– from reading the comments I came away with the definite impression that the WaPo was still the “dominant” source for show info & reviews, and that there was one “dominant” critic, as another respondent on this site termed it. Good to know there are now multiple critics. Question… do they have the influence (readership) to get butts in seats?
The other challenge still remains… the critics getting there too late to do the production any good.
I spent a lot of time in the Metro area over the past several years, attending as much theatre as I could afford to see (!!! yet another big issue well-covered here) and I experienced an odd sense of disconnect between the reviews… and the actual quality of the show. In both directions– some excellent shows dismissed off-handedly and even sarcastically in the WaPo review… and some raves for shows disappointing enough that I left on show at intermission, which I rarely do It seemed more than a matter of simply my own personal taste differing from the critic’s taste, though, as upon comparing notes with friends in the area, they reported a mistrust of long-standing toward the Post critic’s critical assessments.
One last thing: the enthusiasm for, and investment in, theatre in the metro area is absolutely staggering, with the kind of exhilarated, inspired and committed theatre community only dreamed about back when I was working locally. From the perspective of living on the other coast in a city with abundant and excellent theatre that “goes nowhere, never catches fire” in the words of actor Ed Harris, what I’m saying is, the issues being addressed in this column are “a great problem to have.” Here in L.A. is the opposite problem; as Harris told the LA Times last June while doing a one-man LaBute piece, “…there’s excellent theatre here… I’ve done the best work of my life in the theatre here… but nobody cares. it’s like you do the work and it just floats up and out and disappears over the Pacific Ocean, for all the effect it has on anyone. It’s like it never happened.”
My point is, where there’s LIFE, there’s HOPE. And I am optimistic that with a community like the one you all are part of, these many of the issues that bedevil you can be surmounted. (The gas prices, however, I dunno…)
Having critics is a double-edged sword. Powerful critics have hurt some wonderful shows.
I love the theater; I grew up at the theater my parents are Humanities profs and I remember going to free theater events first as a small child with my parents and then going free through my schools generally to dress rehersal or PWYC kind of nights. Later I worked as a techie for summer stock(oh how I wish I could sing or act) and would watch new batches of grade school kids comming to dress or early night shows. What is my problem here? the simple answer is two fold first money it is hard to find the kind of money to go consistantly to the theater. Opera is 80$ a pop for a single ticket the standards are also generally too rich for my blood. Second I find out about show too late. I would have loved to see teller’s take on macbeth but I didnt hear about it until the final week and it was sold out. Ditto to bunches of other shows as well. Since discovering this site I hope that I will find out early like several months out what show are going to be around in fact suggestion to this site is to have a calander with what shows are playing at what venues. COuld be all kinds of snazzy different colors for different theaters showing the runs. This would be of such a great help for planning also better or easier ways to find out how much a show costs with out actually having to go to the pay now part of a site.
Lesley Malin says
The theatre company I manage in Howard County, MD, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, is young and our audience is growing. A key reason for this is that we offer FREE children’s tickets to our outdoor productions and sometimes to our indoor matinees. It helps grow our audience and it allows children easily to be introduced to Shakespeare on the stage not the page. We do struggle with more adult-oriented fare (A Doll’s House) but overall our numbers are growing. And by offering special Sunday family oriented performances that are well-publicized, that squirmy 3 year old (and we get a lot of them) is not unexpected at that performance and therefore not hated by the rest of the audience (and hopefully taken for a walk!).
A link to most of the area reviewers can be found on this site. We post to it every morning. Go to Their Reviews
I hope that anyone who hasn’t yet commented on why they – their children, their friends and neighbors – aren’t going to theatre will still write in.
The conversation has been very interesting. I know that theatres are reading along. The discussion has provoked some ideas for change here on DCTS. I’ll announce them soon.
Lorraine Treanor, Editor
Fortunately, the Washington Post has multiple reviewers now. Peter Marks who was referred to above, is the most prominent but not the only one. The Washington Post also employs Nelson Pressley (who moderated today’s after show discussion with Stephen Schwartz at MetroStage) and Michael Toscano to name a few. I don’t know exactly how many reviewers the post has, but WaPo does have a few.
Patricia Sawyer says
Thanks for asking and the answer is MONEY any way you look at it. Im a suburban senior and an actress/teacher. I need a car to get downtown and thus need to park and pay a fee. Even when I can make pwyc with gas prices I find it is getting to be a luxury I and others can’t afford. I gave up a juicy role in DC last fall because what the company could pay wasn’t covering even my gas. I seem to be more and more of a nonprofit organization with no grants available. I’ve spent six decades of my life playing theatre and or teaching it. Living without it is the pits but I know well the ecconomics especially of small theatre companies and it is tough to say cut prices. I don’t have an answer and the subway way out to the burbs late at night is not attractive for this old lady.
Reading these comments long distance from Los Angeles has been an extremely interesting experience for me, to say the least– because although a great deal has changed in the metro area’s theatre scene since I left 21 (eek) years ago, I’m seeing some of the very same issues on the table now, for you guys, that were just as frustrating (even disastrous) back in my day.
Just one example, and a significant one that I’m surprised to find still a problem 2 decades later: the Washington Post still has only one critic as far as I can tell… and he can’t make it to even a fraction of the shows that need to be reviewed to survive… and many times, as one respondent noted somewhere above, the review, if there is one, comes too late to be of any use… as in, the last weekend of a show, after a run during which the actors might find themselves voting whether to even go on or not if we realized that we, in the cast, outnumbered the audience on any given night.
Of course back when I was a local actor in D.C., (boy this is making me feel old) we didn’t have the internet to turn to… for what it’s worth, it’s my impression that, in the metro area, a far higher percentage of the potential “theatre-going” public read the Post (and get their show info from it), than read, for example, the L.A. Times here, and make their “entertainment-consumption” choices based upon anything they might read therein. The internet and word of mouth do seem to rule the day, as– for “artists,” at least, the newspaper seems sadly defunct. But maybe it’s for the best since it can break the monopoly imposed by a solitary critic who, to put the best spin on it, is at the very least “stretched too thin.”
Just a quick note. For those people interested in finding theater in their local area there are some resources on-line that can help.
For community theater, the best site out there is Scott Bloom’s SRBnet (www.srbnet.com) which has a bulletin board of which companies are auditioning, which are opening shows, etc. If you don’t find it on the main page bulletin board, you can also click on the links to MD, DC or VA and find the link to virtually all of the community theaters in the DC metro area and visit their own web-site. Most community theaters do post their season or upcoming show when possible.
Potomac Stages (http://www.potomacstages.com/) is a wonderful resource for both professional and community theaters. Their “Playing This Week” page is a good place to go like the movie listings when you happen to find yourself with an evening free for the theater. And their “Master Theater List” is pretty complete.
There are good resources to find theater near you on the web that is solely for local DC-area theater.
Regarding theater critics, I don’t have respect for a lof of local critics. I think the level of theater critics is not comparable to the high level of theatre in the Washington area. How do we get more better critics? By that, I mean ones that actually have some qualifications. How about getting some that don’t have personal agendas to promote or destroy certain types of shows? How about getting some that aren’t full of themselves?
How about talking about the theatre companies that saw an increase in tickets sold? What are they doing that is bucking the trend?
Paula Y. Bickham says
Theatre may never compete with TV or movies, but it is also competitive when talking about other performing arts such as contemporary dance, ballet, and opera. I go to theatre (plays, readings, and fringe), but also to opera, ballet, contemporary dance, and the symphony quite often. How can you get an opera or ballet subscriber who goes to see “Othello” or “Macbeth” as an opera or as a ballet to go see it as a PLAY? It is just SO interesting to see Othello (or what have you) done as a ballet, and then turn around and go see it as a play, or vice versa. So there may be a way where some of the theatre companies can tap into their marketing creativity to attract these subscribers into seeing a “performance” in a different format – as a play. There are some people who subscribe to strictly ballet, opera, contemporary dance, theatre, and symphony, and see nothing else. This is okay if that’s what folks want to do (they may not have even thought about it), but the whole theatrical experience becomes even more awesome when you see an opera, or hear classical pieces, or watch a ballet, and then go see it as a play. That’s how I became fond of ballet, from going to plays. For example, I had to wonder “Now how are they going to do Othello as a ballet?” Or “How are they going to do Othello as an opera?” I went and I found out. I’ll soon be going to see “Carmen” by Synetic. It was the opera “Carmen” that made me wonder what Synetic could do with it. Curiosity is amazing, huh? I think theatre companies may have to tap into that subscriber base and kind of nudge folks into see things in a different light, if I may.
Tim Treanor says
While I can believe the bad economy could help to explain the most recent decrease in theater attendance, it doesn’t explain the consistent decrease, year after year, for the last five years. The economy over those five years, particularly in the D.C. area, has been good.
There’s no doubt that traffic is a hassle around here, and that there’s not much by way of outstanding professional theater south of the Arlington-Alexandria area. Though this is a significant barrier for many theatergoers, it was a barrier five years ago, too. The question really is, what’s changed?
I honestly don’t think it’s quality. I’ve watched a great deal of theater over the last five years, and I don’t think it has gone down. If anything, it’s improved.
Ticket prices have gone up – a lot, on the high end. To a certain extent, that may represent a calculated risk on the part of some companies. To use a crude example, if you double your ticket prices and lose a third of your audience, you still come out ahead in terms of revenues. Still, I wonder why folks who find themselves unable to afford the top ticket prices haven’t tried more modestly-priced shows. There are plenty of excellent companies selling at the $40 and $30 levels, and plenty of good theater to see at $20.
Whatever the reasons, I hope that Washington-area theaters acknowledge the problem and move imaginatively to confront it. I agree with Deb and Ted, among others, who suggest that the theater experience must be more than a two-dimensional “watching”, akin to television and movies. Theater will never compete with the movies, where you can munch popcorn, slurp soda and whisper to your neighbor for $12, or TV, where you can talk on your cell phone and drink beer for free. Theaters who want to charge $40 to $75 must offer more than a passive experience. And yet the trend seems to be the other way, with movies and TV shows being turned into plays and musicals.
I think Ted is right when he describes theater as a community experience. In its heyday, theater was a great social event, and the community would gather in tuxes and evening gowns for opening night. The community doesn’t wear tuxes and evening gowns much any more, but theater can still promote itself as a social event. For years, busy people looking for companionship have used computerized services to arrange dates with compatible folks for them. Would it be so outlandish to imagine a computerized service for theater lovers looking both for companionship and compatible theater? Such a service could arrange not only a date but a show that both parties would enjoy. And, if successful, it would promote relationships where theatergoing is a significant element. This, I would think, would be helpful to all area theaters.
Many respondents have noted the absence of young people in the audiences. For young families, getting a babysitter is an important problem. Couldn’t venues which have more than one stage simultaneously put on productions for adults and children? The typical children’s theater ticket cost is significantly lower than the cost of a babysitter. The adults could watch a 90-minute show while the kids watch two forty-minute shows. It wouldn’t solve every young family’s problem, but it would help.
Some respondents have noted the absence of committed theatergoers. Perhaps local theaters could commission local playwrights – and there are a ton of excellent ones around here – to collaboratively develop a series of shows, using the same characters, and offer this series of plays to subscribers. The subscription price would necessarily be high, but it shouldn’t be the equivalent of separate tickets for each show. Say, between $150 and $200 for a 6-8 show series. Each show could be at a different venue, to acquaint the audience with DC’s superior facilities. To intensify the experience, cast members could meet with the audience in character over, say, coffee, and the feedback they got could inform the playwright in charge of the script coming up. The subscriber’s experience would be completely different than that of the passive TV viewer. He would be part of the show, and have his hand (risk-free) in its creation.
Or maybe these are all stupid ideas, and there are other good ideas which have yet to be voiced. The point is that I hope that theater professionals will engage in a conversation with theater audiences to devise new ways to let people know what an extraordinary thing good theater is.
Phil K. Erpen says
When you have an administration and indeed a party that cuts funding to the arts except when they need to appear “cultured”…
When the voices on “Around Town” are tapered to a point that they’re virtually non-existent…
When it gets more and more difficult to find a classical radio station…
When parents allow their children to stay home and text message while watching horrible television programming…
When the cost to attend the theater is factored in…
Add these thoughts to the numerous other thoughtful comments pouring in, and it’s no wonder. My niece knows some of the top actors in town and they are struggling to make ends meet, to afford insurance, etc… And billions are being spent in the aggregate to fund all the new renovations and new theaters…Go figure!
We caught Solas Nua, Spiderwoman and the Miller Rep. This city has much to be proud of…If you agree, then let it start at home.
Ed Kelty says
Even the Washington Nationals are having trouble filling their seats on ordinary days. There is lots of competition for our free time.
Somehow, people think of theater as different from movies which are quite popular in this area. Part of the issue is cost, but that is because most folks do not know their way through the thicket of discounts and offers. Another factor is that they think you have to plan a trip to the theater. Movies can be an impulse–just look a the listed times and go! In fact, most theaters have last minute availability which is not generally known. Just call them! We even got ten dollar box seats at the sold-out Sydney Opera House that way.
There is also the generation gap. The many educated seniors in this area, regardless of income when they were kids, have experienced theater, music, opera, and dance. It is part of their life which their kids and grandkids somehow are missing. How can we entice younger audiences? In view of all the colleges in this area, it amazes me how few students, including drama and literature students, are in the audiences.
Some shows don’t personally resonate because they are alien to my life experience though I might enjoy the performances. However, Washington theaters consciously try to address various audiences. The Arena has been full of African-Americans when they have done plays by black authors, and the Signature had many same sex couples attending “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Maybe there needs to be a pitch to the various interest groups.
Having a dominant newspaper in the area is also a problem. Movies often get two reviews, but plays only one. If it gets a thumbs down by the single reviewer, the box office suffers. There are other reviews such as provided by Potomac Stages, but only the devoted are aware of them.
Those of us who appreciate the abundant theater opportunities in the Washington area need to grab our friends and bring them along.
Linda Perry says
– the economy, incase you have not noticed, may thousands of people are losing the roof over their heads
-no correlation between price and quality,
-unavailability of good quality reviews–which will tell you when it is a stinker. Like brokers and the firms they rate, reviewers depend on the productions for tickets, so never (or rarely) say a critical word, so the reviews are not worth reading.
Cheryl, yes I suppose your attitude is like many in the marketing department who most likely quickly dismiss potential audiences in the Fairfax, Loudon, and PW Counties. My points are only to suggest areas that might be uncovered and targeted to help fill those seats of DC-centric professional companies. That seemed to be the focus of the original article. Sure, I would love to see growth in the arts in our area. Something more than all the community theaters you have listed, oh yeah and Wolf Trap which has oh so many live theatrical productions. But for this conversation, why would I go to local legislatures? There are apparently theaters in need of people to sit in their empty seats. Its an opportunity to take the blinders off and find a middle ground for both. Yes it might cost money, but that money is being spent anyways and well it seems that it is not meriting the results all desire. I am sorry but relying on the Post to create the local buzz is a pitiful plan.
I wonder if there is any relationship to the decline in theater attendance and the decline in newspaper readership? While there are some really good resources on-line respective to theater opportunities I imagine that those resources are mainly used by those of us who are theater obsessed. If folks aren’t reading any of local newspapers then I bet they wouldn’t have a clue about what was happening theater wise in the metro area. This problem could be a really really difficult one to overcome.
Bill Aitken says
There are so many reasons why attendance is dropping and I think a lot of them have been covered already.
To me the major problem is that younger people have no desire to see theater. If it isn’t fast paced and wrapped up in 1 1/2 hours they are not buying it. Another problem is a lot of people think that you have to dress a certain way and behave a certain way to go to the theater.
I don’t care if some twenty something shows up at the theater wearing a Nat’s Cap, tee shirt and jeans (hell as my friends know that how I show up) as long as they show up. If they want to bring a drink in to the theater, and its allowed by the theater, more power to them. If they want to laugh in the all wrong places, hell they paid for the ticket let them laugh.
We have to stop looking theater as something that only the cultured go to see. We have to return to its base when the Groundlings threw things if they didn’t like you. When theater was the entertainment of the masses not only entertainment for the upper classes.
Joseph Palka says
A million variables might come into play regarding an attendance decline, none the least of which, the past year may have been an aberration and not apt to repeat itself. To interpret it as a trend, however, one might consider certain factors:
1)The Washington Post. Singularly the best catalyst for “buzz” for any production. How often do they wait until the last week to review a show? (Has there been a review for “Eccentricities” yet at ACT?) Peter Marks is getting around to a few of the smaller theatres, which is a trend that should continue, whether he pans the shows or not. His presence adds a certain cache for better or worse.
2)The Helen Hayes is a problem. I’ve only gone to one awards program and more NY people performed than Washington. And how is it that an organization that purportedly promotes Washington Theatre sends artistic directors to Canada to promote Canadian playwrights?
3)Infrastructure: Was on my way to catch Solas Nuas last offering on a Thursday night three weeks ago during a rain storm. Left Gaithersburg at 6:30…never made it due to traffic. I did get as far as Clark Street to see a wonderful Woman of Setzuan(sp?) but when you live in the burbs, you’re not inclined to buy your tix ahead of time for precisely that reason.
4)Was in a damn fine production myself this year. They didn’t advertise once. We’d frequently perform before only 6 people until the rave review came out the week we closed. If you don’t promote, a terrible thing happens…nothing.
5)Chalk up much to the lousy economy and gas.
I did manage to see around 30 productions last year, including two I was in as an actor. I am not your typical playgoer, however. Once Obama’s in, all will be well.
BSM- I guess that there are a couple of issues here. First of all when one looks at the theatre scene in the Washington DC suburbs one sees a concentration of theaters in Arlington and Montgomery counties. This has occurred because of the incredible support counties have for the arts including the theater. Both counties have done remarkable work in these. While I’m sure that other surrounding counties/cities support the arts to different extents if you really want to see growth in the arts where you live then you need to work with your local legislators. As far as Falls Church, Herndon and the Vienna areas go you do have Elden Street Theater, the Reston Community Players, The McLean Community Players, The Springfield Community Theater, The Vienna Theatre Company, and of course Wolf Trap. I’m sure that I’ve missed several theaters.
One of the things that I think you need to remember is that most theater companies want to be reasonably accessible to metro. For the most part this means being inside the beltway and close to a metro stop. Recently of the artistic directors of one of the local theater companies was telling me about how expensive advertising is for them. I’m not sure that advertising in local county papers is very cost effective for this companies who run on very very tight budgets. I presume that most people who are interested in the theater read the Washington Post or the City Paper. They both do a pretty good job of providing lists of theater opportunities. In addition there a several really good on-line cites (this one included that are great resources.
Cheryl, with all due respect, NoVA is more than just Arlington and Alexandria, and yes I agree there are those theatres you mentioned, but for those living beyond, Arlington and Alexandria, those two areas are just as hard, if not harder to drive to than DC or Bethesda. Again, there is a bigger market in NoVa outside of Arlington and Alexandria that goes untouched. Maybe the theaters you list could venture into some of these other areas and see what is out there. Again, I never see a production postcard or newspaper advertisement for Signature, Classika, Metro Stage, etc in any Falls Church, Vienna or Herndon based media or outlet. Just a thought.
Paula, There are two major bus lines that are a fairly short walking distance to American Century Theater’s location. In addition to the one you mentioned, there is also the 23 line which runs seven days till late hours. That said, even though I consider myself an intrepid bus rider, I would be hesitant to use it to go home after an evening performance. It’s a very low crime area, but there are too many isolated spots to suit me. In other words, the bus doesn’t drop you at the door.
“BSM Says: …That being said, there are very few theaters offering live stage experiences in NoVa…”
BSM you’ve got to be kidding! Let’s see just for starters there’s Signature Theater, Synetic Theater, Firebelly Theater, Charter Theater, American Century Theater, Metro Stage, Washington Shakespeare Company, Little Theater of Alexandria, Classika Theatre, Teatro de la Luna, The Arlington Players, and Keegan Theater. I’m sure that this list isn’t complete and these are just theaters in Arlington and Alexandria!
one more thought, after reading a few more posts above…
maybe subscriptions could be packaged across theaters some how, where subscribers could choose from a menu of offerings from a number of partner theaters (kind of like the airlines). Or some type of ticket passport where subscribers pay for tier-priced shows across town. It might be a nightmare to manage, but it seems this is what many folks are doing anyway.
couple of quick thoughts…
traffic is a big factor, especially as a NoVa resident. It is really hard to get to a show downtown or in MD from VA, especially, as one person already stated, if it is a week night.
That being said, there are very few theaters offering live stage experiences in NoVa for whatever reason and it seems that the marketing to NoVa residents is as absent as the venues. Northern Virginia seems to thrive more on community theater. I think there is opportunity to grow an audience from your NoVa community base. Maybe establish satellite outreach programs for performance and education in Reston, Herndon, Falls Church, Vienna, Springfield…I am sure there is a reason that there is not much live professional theater in NoVa but there certainly is a gaggle of willing patrons who would give anything not to sit on RT 66 or the American Legion Bridge for hours just to see live theater. Theaters should figure out some way to reach out to this gaggle. MD and DC professional theaters don’t really even offer educational programs (camps, classes, etc…) in NoVa. Why is that?
Marketing and advertising strategies DO need to change. Advertising in WaPo is so last century. What about other electronic marketing strategies? And how about marketing outside the circle of theaters. Those post cards that sit in the lobbies of all the theaters… Where else do they sit? How about the lunch rooms of nearby businesses…lobbies of hotels…tables on the Spirit of Washington…bookstores…military rec centers. (wow, if you could tap into the very large group of Federal and military employees who are already downtown) Instead of these post cards being the business card for what your theater friends are doing next, get those cards outside of the typical theater lobby circle. The same goes for marketing those discount ticket venues. Who else except the theater circle knows about these venues? Get the word out. Market these places. I bet less than 2% of the population even knows that these places exist in DC.
Stages for All Ages should be for All Time, not some small window in spring. There are many shows, I would love to take my teenagers to see, but they don’t always fall into the spring Stages window and ticket prices during those other seasons are not nearly as appealing enough for me to invest.
Theaters also need to customize their targeted demographics per show. Maybe the whole season doesn’t appeal to subscribers. What are you going to do–push the whole season on your subscribers only or push individual shows on a targeted audience. It seems theaters do ok by pushing their season, but maybe on certain shows that need to step out of the norm and push a different approach. Maybe take a look at your cast, what are the demographics of the cast? maybe that is the demographic mirrored in your audience for that show. It is helpful to do this inward looking ahead of your show, not while your actors are 2 weeks into the show when you suddenly realize “Ahhh, Suzie Q’s classmates from CUA would enjoy this, I wonder why they are not here?”
Along with those large donations to build fancy new facilities, it would be nice if someone stepped out of the box to provide similar donations for audience development. or marketing concept exploration/development–It maybe that the “Field (or Theater) of Dreams” approach doesn’t work in DC.
Ok, that’s all, thanks for the discussion.
Phil C. Erpen says
I agree with much that has been written here, but I don’t think much has been said about our embarrasing government’s general lack of interest in theater nationally, or locally,our amazing actors who barely eke out a living, (and frequently without insurance). Reducing “Around Town” to a blip…a major newspaper that would rather make mention of Britney Spears, or have a critic so jaded by his NYC failure that he must rush to New York to have his voice be one of the first heard…(and editors who find this acceptable)…
C’mon folks. Educate yourselves before you prioritize. Read about German theater, or theater in England. There’s your prototypes.
In closing….any chance I get to see Prosky, Marshall, Foucheaux, Robinette, Schiffman, Gero, Jacobson and the legions of up-and-coming talent that we are blessed to have in this city, I still feel is a bargain. Keep up the great dialogue but keep the faith.
Paula Y. Bickham says
Maureen mentioned something about theatre companies posting the availability of public transportation to their venues. I couldn’t agree more. For example, just a couple of weeks ago I discovered that public transportation to The American Century Theater performances is available. It is a Metro bus (10A – Pentagon) that departs from the King Street Metro Station, and a 10A – Hunting Towers that departs from the Pentagon. Both will deposit riders within a short walking distance from Gunston Arts Center. I used Metro’s trip planner out of curiosity. Prior to this I ignored this Theater figuring it was a hassle to get to. Its Home Page covered only driving directions. So now I’m happy to know I have another theater to visit and one that is accessible.
I think WETA needs to bring back Around Town. It wouldn’t have to be the same people, especially if their demands were the reason for the show being cancelled. There needs to be a voice for the theater in the Washington area. I definitely agree that somehow more younger people need to become theatergoers? How will that happen? There need to be some shows that will entertain them. I was so impressed when I saw all the young people going to Signature to to Glory Days. Bravo to Eric Schaeffer!!!
David Allen says
There is a disconnect here someplace. I read where Washington is the cheapest place around when it comes to paying the actor’s salaries, yet so many of the theaters have new multi-million dollar playhouses to play in (Thank God for the Meads, et al,) subscription ticket prices are going through the roof, and all I get is more and more request to donate money in addition to paying these NYC prices for the shows which are not of NYC quality. Where is all the money going? When you buy a subscription, the theater often throws in one or two or three cheap shows during the year to save even more money and screw the season subscriber. I am not complaining about the price of tickets even though I am sure that the higher they go, the less sales they will see, but I’d like to know why all that money is not making it through the bureaucracy to the creative side of the house.
being a theater fan of 28 yrs old, I can agree with much of what is said here – theater is incredibly costly. Yes, there are a bunch of ways of getting discounts; but these are often inconvenient.
Helen Olenska says
Lots of bad weather!! Maybe as many as a dozen times
last year, I changed my mind about going out ’cause it
was too cold, too rainy, too snowy, too windy or too
blazing hot — or some combination. Also, when cab fares go up like they did this last year and bus service goes down in frequency as several routes did this past year, I have to think twice about
the peripheral costs of cab fare or the extra hour or
two I need to invest to travel on public transport.
L2 – I agree with you. There are a number of theaters where tickets are $20 or less and there are also a number of other theaters that offer various ticket discounts. However, I suspect that most people (other than those theater obsessed folks like ourselves) really aren’t familiar with these opportunities. I bet they don’t even know about Goldstar. You have to be pretty tuned in to the theater to be aware of all of the opportunities out there.
Ted- I’m still out there getting groups of friends together to see shows and grab a bit to eat. Some of us are still doing it.
Steve Carson says
Of course, we all know ticket prices are a big problem but both for the buyer and the needs of the theater on both sides. I like when Arena for one has student and youth discount days and there should be more. Senior discounts would be great too of course, though the theater is too gray now and for the future youth are needed.
But one thing, there is not any balance between necessary but often
meaningless froth and some valuable drama as in the old days. Balance is need.
Another thing. With the times getting rough economically and otherwise I am reminded of the Depression where on the one hand there was a demand for thoughtful works mixing with what FDR asked when he sat down with the movie moguls to jawbone for lighter fare. The films of 2007 were something I cannot recall in the universality of gloom and doom in terms of Oscar nominees, “Juno” being the one exception, though I never saw it as Oscar worthy though a fine film. “Atonement” should have been in its place. I doubt we will see such a series of film nominees next year. Hopefully more mixture.
A lot of people have mentioned cost but it has also been mentioned that there are plenty of deals to be had. Aside from that, I could list 5 companies off the top of my head that do very good work on a consistent basis and have tickets that are $20 or less even on nights that are not PWYC or something like that.
So the question remains: Why the drop in attendance? There is a lot of good theatre out there that doesn’t cost much. I will go so far as to say that the companies I am thinking of deliver every bit as much quality, the occasional miss notwithstanding, as the bigger, more expensive houses – which also have their share of mis-fires.
Ted Ying says
I’m very active in community theater, a regular theater-goer and donor to several theaters (community and professional) in the area.
To me, a huge hit comes from people who are part of the creative process not attending as much. At the community theater level, I have produced, directed, acted and sung in many productions. I’ve had just about every job in the book for some show or another at one time. After 10 years, I have many friends in the area in shows. At any given time I have friends in 5-10 productions around town. I attend their shows, I organize groups to see them. I would like it if they would also come out and support shows that I am in or that I am organizing groups to see. It would be nice if someone else made arrangements for a group to see a show, arrange for dinner before and arrange for tickets. And over 10 years, it is amazing to me, how few do any of these things. I slowly stop going to see shows where friends do not come to one of my shows or outings. I organize fewer groups to see shows because it’s a lot of work and very few people reciprocate and take the work off my hands. Ask Joel, he’ll tell you how much work this all is.
So, my hint is this. To increase attendance, people in the business have to get off their high horse and come out to support the community. Once in a blue moon, if you think you are going to a show, send out a note even to just a handful of friends and invite them, arrange for a place for dinner, get tickets. If everyone does this once a year (how hard is that?) and brings 8 people to a show instead of just themselves and their significant other, attendance will go up. But we’ve become lazy as audience members and don’t want to help bolster the performing arts and let the attendance decline.
Right now, everyone is so busy doing their thing that they aren’t there to support their friends who are doing their thing. And that is where some of the decline is coming from.
Personally I really don’t get TicketPlace. I mean realistically most people can not go downtown and pick up tickets. While some same day tickets can be purchased on-line many theaters don’t offer tickets this way via TicketPlace. This is a business model that I just don’t grasp. I sure that TicketPlace is modeled off of the half priced ticket offices in NYC but the dynamics in NYC are very very different. Goldstar has certainly filled some of this gap but it specializes in buying tickets some days in advance of the performance. If TicketPlace wants to target discounting tickets that are available on the day of the performance then it needs to move into offering all of these tickets on-line.
I agree, attendance in smaller community theatre shows is down.
The last few plays I’ve seen, there have been many empty seats.
What is the reason? I think price is part of it. It is still pretty expensive to go and see a good play. I do know there is ticketplace and I am very grateful for that. But for one, there are some shows that Ticketplace does not receive half-price tickets to.
I also think that theatres need to do more advertising of their shows. I know that costs money, but more advertising of what’s out in there would perhaps help. I sometimes go to shows, and mention it to friends afterwards…they often say that they didn’t hear about it. I know many folks don’t do much searching, so it is also on them that they don’t hear about plays.
Also, perhaps more theatres come introduce pay-what-you can evenings. I know some do..but I think it would help if more did.
Those are my initial thoughts as a DC resident who frequents DC community theatres.
Thank you for the article and for the chance to comment.
I agree with many of the other coments. I think costs have a lot to do with the decline in audience attendance. Its really wonderful that so many of our local theaters have been able to grow and occupy all of these new venues designed for them. However, with that growth comes ticket prices that are out of sight. If you look at the larger venue around town ticket are often in excess of $50 a piece. That a lot of money. Even if they wanted to I don’t know how often people can afford to spend that kind of money very often.
I agree that somehow there needs to be a way to attract more young people (20-30 year olds) to the theater. However, they are even less likely to be able to afford the price of many theater tickets these days. What surprises me is that the NYC theaters don’t appear to have trouble attracting a younger audience. What are they doing that we are not doing in the DC metro area? The one local theater that I’ve noticed always has a lot of younger people in the audience is Synetic. I wonder what Synetic is doing that other theaters aren’t doing.
Callie Kimball says
Supply and demand.
Money and time.
Geography and parking (I don’t live near a metro).
As a playwright, I have to choose between consuming art and creating it. (Or taking a nap.) When I’m on a roll, I see 3-4 shows a week, but I still can’t get out to see everything. Compare that to movies, where I see MAYBE 4 movies a year in the theatres, and I make it through one Netflix DVD a month. I’m reading the first novel I’ve read in 15 years. There’s a stack of unread New Yorkers by my bed 2 feet deep.
I also can’t afford full-price tickets, and am grateful for professional comps, PWYCs, and theatres that have ticket prices in the $10-15 range. Much of the theatre in this town is for rich people.
I love readings, one-night happenings, late night shows, off-night shows, shows that run in rep. I especially try to get out to see shows by local playwrights. I’m tired of the 4×4 schedule (4 shows a week, 4 weeks) and don’t see how it serves theatres well other than it keeps them eligible for Helen Hayes.
I live in Shirlington and there’s lots going on at Round House and Rep Stage I’d like to see, but I don’t have AC in my car and the idea of taking my 14-year-old clunker on the highway for that long of a drive just makes me want to take a nap. I think a lot of people sit in traffic, and sit all day at a computer–if they’re gonna sit in a theatre and watch other people experience life, it better be damn good.
There’s plenty of good theater around but it’s EXPENSIVE!!! How many people can really afford to go to the theater often when the costs are (give or take) $40 each. I’ll bet that other venues that handle non theater arts, like Strathmore, are seeing similar declines. And yes, while there are ‘deals’ available out there (ex.pay what you can) getting them requires that you 1) actively seek out these opportunities AND 2) are able to make the specific availabilities. Many of these are offered with very short notice and most people aren’t able to be that flexible. Even as a subscriber at local theater (ex. Round House), it’s EXPENSIVE.
It could be that, as budgets tighten, people are turning from professional to community theater productions. As Diane C noted, many local community theater companies do excellent work, and their ticket prices tend to top out below where many professional companies’ ticket prices start. If prices have tightened my budget so that I can only afford the community theater tickets, then that’s what I’ll see.
That said,however, community theater companies are also seeing a decline in attendance, at least based on the anecdotal evidence I hear from friends and acquaintances who are heavily involved in it. Even companies with consistently good performances have seen attendance drop off.
Another factor is the offerings. It’s easier for me to persuade my husband to accompany me to a “warhorse” than to something edgy or to a heavy drama. He doesn’t even like Shakespeare because he “can’t understand a word they’re saying.” Yes, I know all the arguments against warhorses, and I don’t disagree, but consider the other side: they became repertory standards for good reason. One of the missions of theater is to entertain, which the warhorses do, and if that also puts seats in seats, then that gets people in the habit of going to live theater. Which is what this discussion is about, yes?
Another factor – packaging. We’ve seen several shows at the Atlas (and thanks to Gold Star, have never spent more than $28 per ticket) but finding restaurants near there has been difficult. If theaters and companies would have a section on their web sites and information in their publicity on area restaurants and watering holes, it might be easier to get people to come. “Hey, this Italian place around the corner from the theater sounds good; let’s make a night of it.” “I’ve heard good things about the Argonaut; let’s get a group together and plan to swing by for drinks after the show.”
One thing the Atlas does that I think is VERY smart is to offer a shuttle between the Atlas and Union Station. More companies need to advertise the availability of public transportation to their venue. With the ever-rising cost of gas adding to the ever-worsening traffic around here, that might encourage audience members who otherwise might not venture out. “Hey, they’re only a block from the Metro – I don’t have to drive OR worry about parking. Let’s go!”
The Atlas also has a Stages for All Ages program – kids attend for dirt cheap or free with a ticket-buying adult. Again, this gets the next generations introduced to the excitement of live theater at a price their theater-loving adults (parents, teachers, scout leaders…) can afford. And maybe brings out adults who otherwise wouldn’t come.
Well, my theater-going is up these past couple of years. There are so many good things to see that my problem is not enough time when several short running plays overlap.
My question would be how many actual people are attending productions vs. attendance numbers. The information might help in marketing efforts. What is the percent of people who only see one or two shows a year? One or two a month? If there were a way to spot if one particular segment of the viewing public was in decline (or increase), that would be helpful information.
The economy may be the reason for lower attendance for the past couple of years but not for a few years ago. Without better data, it is difficult to know the real reason for the decline.
With more groups reporting attendance increases than those reporting audience declines, I would posit that the audience is making a choice based on consistent quality and that quality (regionally) is suffering.
Personally, I have grown weary of paying good money and/or wasting time on mediocre-to-poor-quality productions. A growth in the number of theaters and productions not only spreads/thins the “audience”, it also dilutes the pool of quality artists (directors, actors and designers).
I realize a sports analogy is probably wrong on a theater page, but everyone knows which theaters are the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs, just as everyone knows which theaters are the Royals, Devil Rays, and Pirates. While the small market teams may have a good month every now and then, they rarely sustain it over a full season. Whereas the Yankees seem to always have a great season, and a truly bad month is rare. The rest of the teams in the middle are up and down from year to year.
It is convenient to blame the economy and the audience for the slide, but from my perspective as an audience member I believe the dilution of product quality is also to blame. If you had published the 25 theaters reporting increases along side the 22 reporting declines, I suspect the lists would not surprise many readers of this column. I would bet the best companies are on the list of theaters seeing audience increases.
That being said, I feel compelled to note that my wife and I have decided not to renew our Signature tickets for the upcoming year. From our perspective, even Signature has diluted it’s own quality since expanding its season and venue. The year-over-year increase in per ticket costs, coupled with the fact that a season ticket will not include the biggest show in the season, made our decision easier than expected.
As an audience member, I do not find the growth in the number of theaters and productions to be a good thing since it just means further dilution of theatre quality.
Todd and his Two Cents.
Bill Cotton says
It is a sad commentary that indeed there is declining attendance at the performing arts.
We have drastically cut our subscriptions this coming year. We have eliminated the Baltimore and Washigton Operas, Studio and Signature Threatres. We have decided instead of subscriptions that will pick and choose which performances we wish to see. You ask why. The cost . . . ticket prices, ticket service fees, parking costs, gasoline costs. Add to that a dinner and we experience a several hundred dollar evening. Even omitting the dinner the expense is not within most individuals budgets. The same applies to many sports events.
Ed Cragg says
One other thought – scheduling. Periods of plenty alternate with times where there is not much to go see. The result is that I have to forgo plays during the busy periods and wish for something to go see during the slack periods
I think it is ticket prices largely.
But also, look at the nature of the plays.
The subject matter of the plays is often strange, uninviting, uninteresting (to me). They are too fringe or avante garde, leaving an unfinished, unsettling feeling. I want to be enriched, intrigued, entertained, engrossed. Most of the plays I have seen in the last 2 years have disappointed. Given the nature of the plays, perhaps fewer people are willing to commit to a subscription of disappointment, preferring to hand-select favorites across the board. I don’t recall having a sense of ‘dissatisfaction’ across a range of talented theater companies before. Perhaps they are striving to pick award winners. Perhaps they don’t really know the audience’s tastes or what will make it a must see. I believe that the troupes do a great job with acting, staging, costumes, but it is often the story line and dialog that disappoints. I want to see good character development, a great story or message that is memorable. Not something that turns me off, tunes me out, of doesn’t even register, provoke thought or conversation. Contrast today’s line up to plays like “Little Voice”, “The Girl in the Fish Bowl”, “Noises Off”, “First Schimiel”, one woman show “Nine” at Arena… and many others I can’t recall titles of …that left me delighted, tickled, moved, stunned, intrigued, cheering, wanting more…
Perhaps I haven’t picked the right shows among the offerings over the last 2 years, but often I go to shows and wonder how my experience can be so different from someone else’s high praise. Perhaps it is an effort to fill seats.
I love having vast array of shows and troupes to choose from, and I understand that it is a struggle for them to keep afloat. And that they are all competing for the same audience and entertainment dollar. And that in this economy more people are perhaps cutting back.
Yes, I think ticket price is a major factor, but it is also time and additional costs associated with a night out for many people.
And there are so many choices of other entertainment.
Diane C says
Thanks for posting this discussion; the original article hit hard as I’d like to make theatre a career once I retire from the Feds. I agree with many of the above comments, especially cost; other priorities (family, jobs, health costs); reaching out to new and diverse audiences; and the need for marketing, marketing, publicity and publicity. Several of us had discussed the expansion of theatres during better economic times and wondered what this would mean in the years to come… now – when times aren’t so great.
How many arts or theatre management courses are offered in this area? Who teaches and who takes them? Sign me up. I realize many theatre managers have much experience but perhaps D.C. is a subject unto its own – a very diverse population with many students (and their own on-campus events), somewhat transient depending on the Administration in power, gentrification in certain area, and abject poverty in others with middle incomes perhaps the majority.
As a swing dancer in town, I’m torn between $15 dances that offer “free” lessons with live and fabulous music for 3 hrs – every Fri-Sun if not every nite of the wk… and a chance to be with pals who refuse to sit on their duffs. There’s a bit of crossover with theatre and other ushers but not much, sad to say. Even when theatres offer terrific musicals that feature music of the 30s and 40s – like productions at American Century Theatre or MetroStage or Ford’s – most of these dancers don’t show up. Targeting publicity and discounts to an audience like that may help although I realize this is sometimes done. I’m focusing on the dance crowd (which is fairly diverse) only to show what their relatively minimal costs for evening entertainment amount to… while recognizing that the costs to mount a full production in a new or upgraded theatre are high.
NEVER underestimate the power of publicity and marketing. I’m stunned to find that even walking around the area of Wash Stage Guild or Theatre J or the new Harman Center, people don’t have a clue about these outstanding theatres and arts centers although most seem to know about Studio and Woolly by now or know about the Lansburgh or DC JCC. A special kind of media blitz would not hurt. There is the 7th Street Fair… maybe more of those… and Signature has a phenomenal festival now with the Shirlington shops… and the Fringe is a good opportunity to bring in more theatre and art lovers when associated with a theatre. The Folger has its Shakespeare celebrations (and other functions with authors, poets, the Consort) but don’t these cater mostly to the choir?
The Arlington Sun seems to pay homage quite a bit to the Arlington Players, Synetic, Signature, Theatre-on-the-Run and others… what about other local papers?
I’d recommend every theatre that can to participate in Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival during Labor Day (sadly, a busy time for parents and students) and to promote this event far more. Info needs to be placed in more mainstream publications, on tv, radio, blogs, Internet, etc. although look what reduced funding did to “Around Town” on PBS… Except for my esteemed theatre buddies, few even know about this wonderful KenCen festival. Or perhaps another “get to know our theatres” could be arranged at a space like Glen Echo or near the Warehouse or at several libraries concurrently on a day or Monday night designed for that purpose. Am sure ushers and volunteers would help.
Groups like Footlights and the Ushers also are valuable with email, Internet, blogs, podcasts… and I forward this info on constantly. Send on the PotomacStages and TicketPlace URLs until people tell you they’ve got it? Are we reaching newcomers and targeted populations? While Canadian playwrights, Irish plays, and Spanish-written productions should not only go to specific audiences, it wouldn’t hurt to do some very specific PR.
Also bringing in more at-risk populations and perhaps the elderly for special productions although again, I realize many theatres already do the former through their Education Depts, esp Signature, Arena, and others. Studio, Signature, Arena, Woolly, Atlas, Theatre J, Shakespeare – (I’m leaving out many) – have a strong commitment to the areas where they are located and do reach out (e.g., Studio rents its space out to hip hop artists and City Paper-sponsored events which help bring in younger patrons…so at least they know where the venue is located but can they afford full-fledged plays or even readings? Maybe their parents can… word of mouth….). More community involvement programs… and if it means hiring more staff… it’s vitally important. More cross-over activities with poetry clubs, Shakespeare scholars, film clubs (American Century Theatre), etc. Harman Center, Woolly, and others deserve praise for other activities like lectures and the development of special clubs. Could the Post be convinced to have a special section devoted to all this?
Theatres working in tandem – like Theatre J and Arena on the Miller retrospectives… perhaps more of that. I found audiences at both had gone to both venues.
Could this area produce a 2-week festival anything like the Contemporary Arts Theatre Festival over a defined period of time and highlighting a theme?
Thanks to an actress pal, I’ve gained some awareness of community theatre. Silver Spring Stage, Kensington Arts Theatre, Arlington Players, Elden Street – all these do dynamite work…. Are there ways to promote more crossover between the community and professional theatres? It’s hard for community theatres to offer more discounts than they already do.
How many are aware of the courses given at these theatres other than those who already are looking for specialties and internships?
And somehow giving “credits” to those theatres and productions that take risks on the edgier, more socially relevant productions. I’ve heard, perhaps erroneously, that VA and DC are more generous with grants to theatres than is MD. True? This goes back to arts and theatre management, fundraising, and community planning.
When the League of Washington Theatres offers its freebies during October via the Internet, possibly those of us who ache to get tix could sign up on another separate day… allowing those tix to go to folks who have NEVER been to a theatre – or perhaps we could get “credit” by bringing a newcomer… an administrative nightmare but where there’s a will, there’s a way?
I’m a frequent usher although I contribute to theatres annually and pay at venues like Olney and Rep Stage where it’s hard for me to arrive in time. So I often go free or rely on TicketPlace and meet up with many folks who’ve expressed dismay at empty seats when superb talent is in the house. Maybe we can all brainstorm to fill up the coffers and keep DC’s scene vibrant. Maybe yet another, uh, Committee for exciting new marketing ideas?
Paula Y. Bickham says
Very quickly here are some guesses:
A lot of people don’t want to go to social events alone – and theatre is one of those events; people probably want to spend more time socializing with friends, family, etc., doing other things; perception of theatre is that only those who can “afford” it can; location, parking, cost of parking, and distances that may be blocks and blocks away from a metro station (not fun if it’s hot as all get out, and raining buckets); marketing and promotion strategies used by theater companies and how they present “off-broadway, off-off broadway” theatre, regional, and community theatre. Everything is not about New York. A lot probably can’t be done about most of these things but I will give these recommendations – tap into the tourist trade (the DC metroplex draws gazillions of folks from all walks of life to the area), churches, clubs (lodges, Boy Scouts, school groups, etc.), and senior communities.
Ronnie Ruff says
Theatre in DC competes with Film, Live Music and Sports for patron’s entertainment dollars. These patrons each year become younger and less familiar with theatre due to to the theatres not competing competitively for their time and money through advertising.
Until we as the theatre community get serious about marketing to this changing patron pool this problem will only get worse.
Ed Cragg says
I would note two factors that have caused me to slightly reduce my theatre going.
First is not just cost, but price increases. I am spending about the same $ last year, but went to fewer shows. For example, I used to get to all Signature shows, these days I endup only going to previews or shows that appear at TicketPlace
Second is Traffic – With rare exceptions I have stopped going to Roundhouse and Olney because it just takes too long to get there on weeknights. I used to be able to walk out of my house at 7:00 and be in my seat for a 7:30 curtain at any downtown or Arlington theatre, however on recent occasions it has taken me over an hour to get from a Potomac bridge to theatres on upper 14th or H, strictly due to traffic backups. I have ended up missing several PWYC shows as a result, but between work and pets I really can’t leave much earlier in the evening than 6:30
First, thanks so much for this conversation!
As someone speaking from the other side (I officially founded Venus 8 years ago and have been slugging it out ever since) I find the struggle has something to do with defining what theatre really is, and what the value of getting up and going out to see it will be. We now live in a culture bombarded with 2dimensional media and there is an assumption that it somehow replaces the live experience. To me this is the battle. If you look on Broadway or even in our National and Regional houses here in DC it seems many of the works reflect known stories found in 2D media. Because that’s what predictably sells tickets.
More risk-taking Companies with resources who are able to buy or create a “marketing sexy” image in the 2D,and printed media, realm tend to have the most success in getting “butts in seats” as we say.
For geeks like me who are almost scarily obsessed with process over product and drawn to doing work that may not be “known” or “predictable” but is alway edgy and unseen anywhere else, we need to somehow be understood. The cunnundrum is knowing there are people who want to see edgy work, (and by the way are tickets tend to be cheaper than parking at the Kennedy Center) but not having the means to reach them in the same way heavily funded companies can. Not that I believe in labeling as a general rule, but really theatre is so many different things from: music to proscenium to promenade to intimate and on and on and on. It would be good to have some way of connecting “things that are alike-audience to company”. Like we used to do on those diagrams when we were kids.
One actor suggested that we smaller companies maybe start to review each others work as a way to generate a 2d vibe that is cool and “marketing sexy” without needing such huge funds to support it. Many of us have to wait for reviewers who are already overbooked and committed. Even DCTR is not able to get to everything going on. Which causes a strange back up in simply understanding what’s happening. Critics must cover the companies that are known and so can only squeeze smaller companies in on occasion. This KILLS us.
The simple equation is Press=Box Office=Another day to live.
This goes to the subscriber point and all the rest. It’s impossible to plan ahead when you are barely staying alive.
The solution seems to lie in embracing and befriending 2d media as a means to celebrate and promote live work. That’s the best I’ve come up with so far anyway.
Can’t thank you enough, again, for this article. And for all that you do for theatre.
The economy the economy the economy. I could also say lack of spare time for us who work full time – time is scarce on the weekend after chores and errands. But the real reason is that funds are going for basics – groceries, gas, utilities….
Recommendations: more community outreach needed like Arena’s special ticket program for us who live in SW. Local farms have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Perhaps local theatre could do something similar.
From the point of view of a 70-year old theater fan, the highly worthwhile experience of Theater has become less frequent for me due to budget constraints. I still see one or two theater productions per week, but they have to be discounted offers on plays that I really appreciate! Fortunately, this area is rich in opportunities.
In my experience, motivating young people who never had exposure to the theater is very difficult. May be if we “oldsters” were given the opportunity of being accompanied by a youngster in our famiies (we on discount tickets, they free-of-charge), they might become interested. After all, theater is a kind of magic happening in front of your eyes and it has a lasting magnetism of its own for those exposed to that magic –books or movies are not the same! LBB
Joel Markowitz says
I’d be glad to talk to your association about the growing DC Theatre Scene and discount opportunities. I just spoke to a wonderful group of Brandeis University Alumi last week, and I’d be glad to offer the same program to your neighborhood association. I’ll bring my colorful flyers with me. Great suggestions Jackie!
Joel Markowitz says
There are many discount options available for our local productions:
(1) Ticketplace (Near the Gallery Place Metro).
(2) http://www.goldstarevents.com (sign up for email updates sent to you)
(3) Checking our Hot Tickets list here at DCTS.
(4) Rush tickets at some of our local theatres.
(5) Senior discounts.
(6) Pay-What-You-Can offers.
(7) http://www.theatermania.com has some local offers.
(8) Join The Ushers Theatre Going Group.
We get lots of discount offers, which we pass on to our members. http://www.ushers.us is the website, and you can email me at [email protected] for more info.
So, as you can see, a little money goes a long way if you utilize these discount options.
Check all the theatres websites, which you can find here to the right of this comment box – under Theatre Companies – for their discount, rush ticket and senior discount policies and offers.
For me, it is the price of the tickets. Tickets are expensive. We have alot of choices for our dollars these days. Many of us must decide where we want to spend our money each week. Do we want to go to a show, Caps or Wizards game, or eat a nice dinner? We can’t do it all, unfortunately. I have to choose one big event a week.
Tips for getting folks into seats: I live in Penn Quarter. Host an event for the neighbors of the theaters. Give them an opportunity to purchase discounted tickets. Advertise to them. Pass out flyers. Since I am a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association I would like to invite someone from the theaters to come to our board meetings and introduce themselves. Maybe have a happy hour before the show for the neighborhood. We could come up with something, if we put our creative minds together. This could be an exciting partnership. Most of us chose to live in Penn Quarter to be within walking distance of the theaters, Verizon Center, and nice restaurants. We like to attend these events.
Wendy Leibowitz says
I hesitate to reply, since this is a site devoted to, and run by, people who are NUTS about theater. And I love you guys and all you do. So explaining why I’m going much, much less to the theater on this site of all places is not exactly preaching to the choir. Begging your forgiveness, here’s why:
1. Money and schedule. If you want the cheap seats, you either have to go to an early PWYC show, and see it with a lot of wrinkles in the production, or wait and hope for discount seats. The former requires a lot of tolerance for shows that are still finding their sea legs, and the latter requires a lot of flexibility in scheduling, which I just don’t have.
2. A new child. I adopted a two-year old girl from Hungary last summer, so I am now exploring children’s theater (for VERY YOUNG children.) I can’t tell you how awful the shows have been that I’ve seen. We went to see “ALice in WOnderland” at Glen Echo with some older kids–very talky, British, boring, too long. (We’d seen the Jungle Book, which was better, in part because the animal puppets were better). “The Phantom Tolbooth” at the Kennedy Center, based on one of my favorite books, put me off theater for months. (I went with a friend’s older children while she babysat mine). I hear good things about Imagination Stage, but if I’m going to pack up a toddler and go to the theater, I want better quality. Better scripts, better acting, interactive, and shorter.
3. I subscribe to the Studio because it rarely disappoints. Even when I’m puzzled by a show that others rave about (“The Brothers Size”) I appreciate being pushed outside my comfort zone. Given my budget and time constraints, I find that the Studio, the Landsburgh and tried and true offerings (I’m going to see “Translations” soon because I love the play) will suffice for now. I see perhaps 10 percent of the shows I used to see.
So I appreciate this site, for letting me “experience” the theater vicariously, at least.
Jon B says
I would say the decline is based on the death of the subscriber base. I don’t think many DC theatres, save a few, are attempting to reach out to a younger audience. The future of the American theatre is in the hands of 20 and 30 somethings, and they simply aren’t going to the theatre. That can be attributed to high ticket prices, but I think it has to do more with the plays and musicals that are being produced in our nation’s capital. Stop doing the same old war horses and start supporting new and talented playwrights. This is a broad generalization as several theaters (ie Signature, Woolly, and some of the smaller fledgling companies) are doing just that. But overall, I think many companies need to look at their seasons and their marketing campaigns and find a way to appeal to younger audiences.
Michael Freiband says
This is not a complicated question. Two factors are at play:
More theatre opportunities mean the audience is spead thinner. This is a simple supply and demand matter–when supply increases, demand may not move as fast.
A worsening economy means theatre-goers will be more choosy about spending their discretionary dollars on theatre tickets. Instead of a $35+ theatre ticket, they may opt for an $8.00 movie ticket, a DVD rental, or simply staying at home.
I think that theatres can do more to promote themselves through community outreach programs. There are indeed groups which would enjoy productions but don’t necessarily have an opportunity to attend such as groups of seniors from assisted living facilities. I also think that local theatres are not doing enough marketing of their theatres to the many groups of visitors to DC. The Kennedy Center and National Theatres seem to be the main ones which tourists, conventioneers, business and government travelers, etc. will attend. Why not the other theatres? Sometimes they are not even aware they exist.
It’s expensive. I can’t drop $100 on a pair of tickets very often.