Producing Notes – The Sum of its Parts

This week I was meeting with a director about a possible future project. We were exploring spaces in Toronto that might be appropriate and found that one of Toronto’s smaller theatre spaces actually had the right ‘feel’ for the show.

Though I liked it artistically, I had some administrative hesitations. Flipping through their season brochure and looking at what other (very small) companies are charging in that space, I thought “We’d have to drop our prices.”

This got me thinking. Why does Toronto have an ‘unofficial’ policy that the smaller the venue, the cheaper the tickets? If you go to see a show at Canadian Stage on a Thursday, you will pay $79 for the best seat at the 850-seat Bluma Appel Theatre, and $47 for the best seat at the 240-seat Berkeley Street Theatre. If I go to Studio 180’s God of Carnage on a Saturday night at the 700-seat Panasonic Theatre, I would pay $79 for the best seats. But if I go to see their production of Cock later this year at the 200-seat Theatre Centre on a Saturday night I’ll pay $35. A top priced seat at the National Ballet in the 2000-seat Four Seasons Centre will cost $184 and seeing a dance show at Harbourfront’s 400-seat Fleck Dance Theatre has a top price of $49.

Please don’t get me wrong. This is not an article about lowering prices. As a producer, I am well aware that all of these companies tend to set ticket revenue at the lowest price point possible and that in all cases, audiences are only paying about 50% of the true cost of their seat.

My curiosity is why we don’t charge more for our more intimate shows?

In every other industry, people pay a premium of a VIP experience. I can’t imagine a more VIP experience than:

(a)    Getting access to something that only limited people can access; and

(b)   Having an “up close and personal” experience

Using that criteria, wouldn’t seeing a show in the 100-seat Tarragon Extra Space be more of a VIP experience than sitting in the front row of the Princess of Wales Theatre along with 1999 other Torontonians?

I am just as guilty as everyone else of charging higher prices in larger venues and lower prices in smaller venues. I don’t know if I’m gutsy enough to be the one to break this trend and start charging $50-70 for a seat in the Upstairs Berkeley. But I wonder if we are collectively guiding the public to think that large scale work is more valuable than small scale work by pricing it accordingly. Can we really ask people to value artistic choices like ‘intimate’, ‘paired-down’ or ‘acoustic’ when we price them to suggest a lesser experience?

Posted in Local News, Producing Notes