Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is this happening in your neck of the woods?

I will share my thoughts in a future post, but it begs the question--is it really a bad thing that some theatre companies are closing their doors? is this a "market adjustment" to equalize supply and demand?

From this Wednesday's Washington Post:

More Shows, Fewer Showgoers
Helen Hayes Group Cites Increase of 402 Performances, Decrease of 36,000 Patrons
By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 23, 2008; Page C05

The number of stage performances and theater companies in and around Washington went up last year, while overall attendance dropped 1.9 percent, according to statistics from the Helen Hayes Awards organization.

Despite that dip, 2007 was the busiest year since the first tally in 1985, the Hayes group said, with 67 professional companies presenting 8,050 performances of 454 shows. That is an increase from 2006 of three companies, 402 performances and 20 shows. (These figures represent all area professional theaters, not just those eligible for Hayes Awards, but do not include attendance for the Capital Fringe Festival, which drew 19,000 people.) Metropolitan Washington is a busier theater district than the Chicago area, according to Hayes Executive Director Linda Levy Grossman. Though Chicago has more theater companies, "the D.C. area still does more work," she noted via e-mail.

Even so, derrieres in seats numbered about 36,000 fewer in 2007, the Hayes staff reported, with 1,908,557 people attending shows. The dip in comparison with 2006 adds more weight to the conventional wisdom that the audience isn't quite keeping up with the burgeoning theater community. Attendance also dipped by about 1.2 percent from 2005 to 2006, much less than the 8.5 percent drop the previous year.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The end of the critic?

The Los Angeles Times ran an article on Tuesday, April 8 about the possible demise of the cultural critic. In the article, they cited numerous high profile critics which have recently left their posts, begging the question whether or not they are a dieing breed.

As many major newspapers continue to lose large numbers of readers, the impact of reviews and critics is beginning to shift. I myself blogged about this experience in a previous post. This is the first time that I have read an acknowledgement of this trend in a major daily newspaper. With the rise of many online, "citizen" review sites such as, more and more people are looking to common lay folks for their opinions on cultural attractions. Fewer and fewer people are turning to what Mr. Goldstein refers to as the "arbiters of culture." In fact, Mr. Goldstein's son hits it right on the head when he said "I trust my friends more than I trust that guy writing the review." This highlights the power of social media--it provides a context and an opportunity for friends to share their personal opinions of your product. With this ongoing paradigm shift, we as marketers and publicists are going to need to start paying more and more attention to our online reviews as we do to the major daily writers.

Part of what that means is being consistently on our game. No longer can we invite the major reviewers in for one specific night where we all dress up and put out the good china--we have to constantly have the good china on display because every performance is going to be reviewed by someone.

Just a couple of days ago, Arena Stage hosted a panel of professional theater reviewers who volunteered to speak to the participants of our Young Critics Program (a program that invites students to attend shows and review them). On the panel was Peter Marks (chief theater reviewer for the Washington Post). One particularly smart student asked Peter about how he perceived the power of his positive and negative reviews. And although I am paraphrasing, Peter acknowledged there was a time when a reviewer could make or break a show, but he feels this is no longer the case. I can attest that the Washington Post and Mr. Marks in particular still has a very large following, but I would tend to agree with him.

And let's not forget that even though we might get the occasional bad review (and let's admit, sometimes it is deserved), critics are providing us a service by writing about us. The loss of the critic is tragic. Fewer critics = less coverage. Less coverage = less public knowledge.