Friday, January 14, 2005

Choosing a Season: More to it than meets the eye

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent Wednesday afternoon at MoonSpace, in a meeting to give feedback on the 2005-2006 season.

It's not like I thought artistic directors just closed their eyes and picked shows at random, or that they just thought of a handful of shows they really liked and moved forward based on that alone. But I did underestimate all the factors that go into choosing a season.

I can't actually divulge the season yet, but I can give you a peek into the decision-making process.

First, like any business really, you think about audiences. With 42nd St. there is a strong subscriber base, but it still only comprises about 25% of tickets sales. This wasn't the case back in the days of the New Conservatory Theatre and 3-week runs, but since moving to the larger Eureka and adding a 4th weekend, subscribers definitely fill fewer seats than single-ticket buyers. So, in addition to appealing to 42nd St. Moon's longtime subscribers, we of course want to appeal to and bring in new ticket buyers...and hopefully lots of those will decide to subscribe.

42nd St. Moon has actually done some subscriber surveying, so we have some idea about what matters to them. Unfortunately it doesn't correlate very well with what reviewers and other press folks care about.

What's an example? Well, press folks care about whether a show is rarely performed or not. But their definition of a show that's been performed "too often" is nothing like the average audience members definition. "Can-Can" is a great example. As an audience member, I can't remember ever getting a chance to see it live before 42nd St. Moon's production last fall. Theatre press folks consider that a "well-known" piece!

There was quite a bit of discussion around this issue. There were voices in the room who basically wondered why we were caring about what the press thinks.

But the point is that if the press doesn't like a season, they won't do articles about the shows, and worse still, they won't come review them. And ticket sales do, whether we like it or not, jump when the little man is clapping.

So, if one of our stated goals is to appeal to new audience members, then appealing to the press is part of the equation. Certainly not the only part, but undeniably part.

Audience vs. Press appeal: only one factor. And enough to chew on for today.

Next I'll tackle casting and budgets.

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