Tough noogies, some might say. If you can't afford something, don't buy it. After all, isn't rampant debt what took the world to the brink on which we--though not all--are teetering? Learn to live without. Stop asking for a handout.
But a theater in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area seems to disagree. It is not only reducing prices, it's giving away tickets. And while Mixed Blood Theatre didn't post a profit, they consider their pricing program a success. Why? Because they're growing their audience base. They're filling seats, and introducing the theatre to people who wouldn't otherwise come to the theater.
Smart, I think.
While revenue was down over the previous year, attendance, as you might suppose, was up 18 percent. And check this out: Forty-seven percent of the 2011-12 audience was under the age of 30; 30 percent were people of color; 33 percent earned less than $25,000. Look at those numbers. They represent people who typically don't go to the theatre. Maybe there's something here.
Marketers know one of the best ways to get people to know your product is to give it away. Hand out free samples. Microsoft opened its code up to developers, and look at the market share Microsoft still has over Apple in personal computers.
I think money has to stop being the bottom line, not just for theaters but for society in general. And I think right now is a great time for theatrical community outreach people to start giving it away. There are people today who are hurting so badly economically, who I imagine would jump on a free night of anything. Ballroom dancing. Cooking classes. Why not theater?
I stopped going to Fenway Park and rooting for the Red Sox for this very reason: The cost of attendance became obscene. Not only did attendance become price prohibitive, I also stopped going out of anger. To hell with the Sox and John Henry and all his millions, I thought. I know there are people who will continue to pay high prices, but I do wonder if theaters will simply alienate a good part of their market simply by pricing them out. Fenway Park simply a theater, with the same ensemble of actors performing every night? Think about it.
In hard economic times when money is scarce, maybe the best thing to do is stop trying to grow your bank account, and work on ways to grow the other parts of the theatrical business.