Reaching the Audience

Just recently, I went to Rogue Machine’s production of Loraine Hansberrys’ Les Blancs. An evening of exemplary theatre. Profound, evocative, well-conceived and beautifully presented.

At the same time, barely a mile away, the Fountain Theatre continues to challenge audiences with their newest production, Building the Wall, and further sheds light on just how valuable intimate theatre can be and why it should be treated with more attention and greater respect.

The Nate Holden on Washington Blvd just closed an amazing revival of Five Guys Names Moe. Celebration Theatre continues a thirty-five year tradition of representing the LGBTQ committee with award winning plays.  For nearly 20 years Casa 101 has raised their voices for the Hispanic Community. Native Voices at the Autry Museum continues to produce enlightening works, and this is just a sampling of the great opportunities we have in Los Angeles.

Pacific Resident Theatre, The Odyssey, The Victory, Skylight Theatre, Towne Street Theatre, Robey Theatre, the list goes on. The tens of dozens of theatres omitted here are not for lack of quality, nor for lack of excellence, it’s just that there are literally too many to name, and sadly not all of them are known, even to us at FootLights.

Why is that?  Even if you’re looking, it is difficult to grasp the full breadth of theatre in greater Los Angeles.  Many lay the blame at the feet of traditional press, no longer do we get robust coverage from The LA Times, or The LA Weekly. While the lack of coverage is true, the lack of visibility is even more pronounced. Reviews which were once considered an intrinsic prod to nudge audiences now has little impact. Advertising is now relegated to target marketing and rather than promoting the value of the art form, rather than exploring the deep potential that industry marketing can offer, the too few dollars that are spent are almost entirely spent on “come see my show”.

When people I know go to New York, I mean people not in the theatre biz, one of the first things they think of is, “what show should I go see?”   Going to see a show in New York is an inherent part of visiting the city. “Where do I go?  Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway?” Those often become the query before what show should I see.  NY Theatre has branded itself synonymous with visiting New York.

The results of that effort, is that in 2016, 13.4 million tickets were sold on Broadway, reaping a revenue of $1.4 billion. That’s an average ticket price of $111 per seat, including discounts.

In Los Angeles, the average ticket price before discounts is less than $30. Even with this discrepancy, there is a huge difference in the number of tickets sold. If there are 500 productions per year, which now seems to be the best guesstimate, and each of these shows performs 3 times a week at full capacity for 6 weeks, the potential for intimate theatre as it currently runs is around 891,000 seats. If the average ticket sale is $20, the potential of income is only $17.8 million in total revenue. That is .013% of New York revenue.

Let’s make no mistake here, this has nothing to do with quality of work. Pound for pound, LA theatre is as good as you will see anywhere. Even production values which were once considered an unnecessary expense are now executed with a great depth of professionalism. So what’s the difference?

Demand.

Hamilton which has been promising to come to LA for over a year, is selling tickets at over $400 per seat. It has a run planned from Mid-August to the end of the year. I’m betting that will go longer.  At 8 performances a week, the potential revenue at current pricing is in excess of $175 million. That’s 450 thousand seats. So apparently there is a demand.

Granted Hamilton is one of the most successful shows in Broadway history, but the fact that the potential audience for that show is in the neighborhood of half a million tickets, supports the idea that Angelinos are interested in a show if they know about it.

Of the nearly half a million people that will see Hamilton in LA, how many know that intimate theatre not only exists but thrives in Los Angeles? If our community did nothing more than bring our presence to the attention of the Hamilton audience, who knows what impact that might have. Maybe we’d suddenly have 4 or 5 performances a week, maybe larger venues could be developed, maybe the hidden jewel of LA Theatre might begin to shine and build into the potential of really being a sought-out form of entertainment.

To get there, it will require an unselfish effort by the entire intimate theatre community to sell the art of intimate theatre. We have to promise an experience that will rival what they will see anywhere else. If we can get that attention, then we can build, but as long as we are a pack of starving urchins pleading for a modicum of attention, we will continue to have pennies cast at us while we should be catching dollars.

 

About Peter Finlayson

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Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and footlight.click. While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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