Here we are in the midst of another election cycle, and though some of the candidates may try to distract us with vague issues, the economy should remain our primary focus. When we take our eyes off the fact that we deep down, are still worried about the economy. The regurgitated social issues become scabs that we pick at, looking to make the opposition bleed so that we’ll feel better about ourselves. But the fact of the matter is that economic insecurity plagues everyone.
Theatre, which is always in fiscal jeopardy, is feeling the pinch more than most. While non-profits at one time became comfortable living off the largess of the wealthy, they are now suffering from the lack of contribution from those-that-have, even as those donors may be getting wealthier. In times of economic insecurity, what was once perceived as civic duty, contributions to the arts, gets lost as people hunker down, thinking, “protect what we have, and don’t worry about the rest. Let others worry about their own problems.”
And that precisely is where it all falls apart. Societies are based upon a balance of comfort for all that are part of the culture, not equanimity, but a reasonable, responsible relationship to everyone that is a part of our society. That means agreeing to pay for what we want. Pricing of goods and services is based upon the balanced relationship between the buyer and seller. The baker makes a loaf of bread and charges an amount that will cover his costs and allow for some profit. He takes that profit and uses it to spend with others.
Buyers always seeking a good deal, keep the pressure on the baker to make his price reasonable and competitive thus assuring he doesn’t price himself out of the market. While there may be better processes for this dance of community economics, none to date have proved as effective.
Now however, we have new players in the game, organizations like Groupon and GoldStar, who tell us they can provide what we want for half the price. They feed on the primal fear of economic insecurity and make us feel as if we’re being financially responsible by saving money. That’s only half the truth; we may be saving money on a personal level, but we are breaking our social contract and imperiling sellers by forcing them to offer deals that jeopardize their livelihood.
Businesses that offer to sell or provide goods and services for others at significant discounts are not concerned with the social contract or the survivability of the vendors; they care about neither the seller nor the buyer, but are only concerned with the fees they can charge on both ends. Profit is their only motive. Not only does the buyer pay a convenience fee, as well as a processing charge, but the seller has to pay an additional fee for the service. And the sellers, theatres in this case, are being forced to sell tickets for less then they can afford in the hopes of attracting a loyal audience.
Make no mistake; there is a place and time for offering discounts and free admissions. But if we create a culture in which the buyer (patron) believes he can get everything for half-off or better, a number of negative possibilities occur. One is that the fiscal viability of the provider (theatre) is sorely tested, leaving it unable to continue its work. Or, perhaps the quality of product is diminished—more than a few stages have changed the nature of their work. Or, they artificially inflate ticket prices so that it seems that a deal is being had when the discount is applied. None of these options promotes a harmonious, trusting relationship.
Theatre, to be effective, must trust its audience and be trusted by that audience. The social contract is as real and urgent as is the agreement between the baker and the consumer. While the product may not be as tangible, it is equally essential. The baker provides nourishment for the body; theatre nourishes the spirit.
With our individual reliance on the World Wide Web, our sense of individual expression and power is heightened. We can become very powerful in our own understanding of problems and find ample justification to do what is best for us individually. While this is empowering and promotes knowledge, the flip side is that it becomes easier to ignore the effects that our decisions have upon those that rely on our actions.
When we buy the discount ticket, we seldom think, “Will the theatre really miss my $10?” No, we think, “I’ve saved myself ten bucks,” but at what cost? A world class performer was overheard boasting of her reliance on a discounter for her theatre ticket purchases. But when asked if she was willing to donate half of her performance fees, she took great umbrage, asking “Why would I do that?”
One of the hidden costs of using the internet is that we insulate ourselves in a virtual world. Our actions seem justified because we don’t have the real world around us to check our choices. Every time we take some action, someone somewhere feels the effect. Much like a butterfly that causes a tsunami, our discount purchase may determine whether a theatre survives or not. It is up to each of us to act accordingly.
If we understand the interdependence that we all share, and if we believe that what is being offered has value, then we must be willing to pay the full value. Theatres are being forced to offer their tickets for half price, not because that is all they are worth, but because there are too many of us who refuse to pay more. In the privacy of our internet purchase, we justify our action. But how many of us are willing to walk up to the box office and say, “I’ll give you half of what you’re asking,” and expect to be met with a thank you? For that matter, how many of you are willing to work for half of what you make? When you use a discounter that is what you’re asking of others.