If you've been staring at the huge banner of the beautiful
In his arts-marketing bible "Subscribe Now!" Newman exhorted performing arts groups — opera companies, orchestras, theaters — to focus their efforts on the "saintly subscriber," a loyal, involved patron who will buy a season ticket for all their shows, as distinct from the "fickle" single-ticket buyer who likely won't show up for challenging fare or new work, or merely if it's chilly outside. And who will go across the street the moment a rival has a hotter show.
Newman — a colorful personality with a healthy ego — was on my mind this week when the Theatre Communications Group, a national trade organization, released a study saying that the number of subscribers at American nonprofit theaters had slipped by about 15 percent over the last five years. Single-ticket income, meanwhile, remained roughly constant.
Newman died in 2007 but I'd called him enough times to know roughly what he would have said: Arts groups just aren't doing a good enough job selling subscriptions. Newman had no time for any argument that the days of subscriptions were over.
His mantra remains central. Far more than New York, Chicago remains a town where the top-tier theaters operate on subscription series.
Nonetheless, I think that plenty has changed, very quickly, since Newman died and that some nonprofit theaters will, in time, move to more flexible schedules and keep their hit shows running, even if that means asking subscribers to rearrange their plans. Perhaps memberships will, in time, replace subscriptions. In some markets.
Some of the reasons have been around long enough that I remember chatting about them with Newman: the increased mobility of the population, an increase in commitment phobia, a greater desire to make decisions at the last minute. His response: Phewy — theaters aren't putting enough effort into the subscription market.
But in 2007, the likes of
And because theaters are businesses, the smarter ones have figured out that if they are going to be selling a lot of tickets at below list price, it makes sense to keep the sticker price high — which is why, I think, you will pay $40 (plus booking fees) for a full-price ticket to see "Assisted Living" at the Profiles Theatre. I like "Assisted Living" very much, but in excess of $40 is steep for a black-box, off-Loop show. Of course, it's not hard to find a special deal. Sticker prices for the arts are becoming a lot like prices at your local car dealer. Only a chump pays them.
Unless the model on display is very, very hot.
If you want to guarantee tickets to "The Book of Mormon" next year — and there is no hotter show currently playing anywhere in the world — you can do so if you buy the full Broadway in Chicago season. If you want great seats to see
You might find that irritating, but I submit it is better for theater and theatergoer than what typically happens on Broadway these days, where dynamic pricing means high-demand shows are only available to those able to drop several hundred dollars a ticket. So if the Chicago way makes you buy a subscription, at least you get the life-enhancing benefit of an entire year of shows.
No wonder that 15 percent decline has not happened here.