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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pig Farm

Thanks to Parabasis, many bloggers got the opportunity to take a look at PIG FARM, currently playing at the Laura Pels, produced by the Roundabout.

What strikes me, looking back on the experience of watching this play, is that the intended audience is under under 35 and the actual audience is over 55. This is how I felt about the Broadway run of "Bridge and Tunnel." Because of ticket prices and because of how these things are promoted... my friends and I (I'm 30) rarely get the resources to see these things once, let alone multiple times. Being that I'm an exceptionally interested viewer (a playwright and theatre blogger) it says a great deal that I was brought to this play by a free ticket and an organized effort.

Think of it like this..."Pig Farm" received a negative review from Charles Isherwood, and that, we know, can make or break a show in this town. Why is that? "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" got universally bad reviews, and it's breaking box office records. A.O. Scott even wrote an article about why movie critics BOTHER.

So, if the Times can break a play, and not a movie (excluding the national figures and sticking locally, because you KNOW you saw the Dumb Pirates Movie) ... why do plays like Pig Farm (essentially the next thing out of the pen of the Urinetown team, and it's brilliantly funny) gather so little buzz among their true audience?

First of all, the audience is dwindling. We know this. Enough said about that.

Second is that ticket prices are absolutely restrictive. Unlike movie reviews, which are read for water cooler talk as much as actual dollar guidance, reviews of plays are guiding a far greater allocation of resources. $50 tickets to see a play, even one as entertaining as PIG FARM, is too much for most of the audience for which PIG FARM is written.

The third issue is obviously advertising. How do movies combat the critics? Mult-million dollar advertising campaigns, big stars, DVD sales... every way to surround and interest an audience is available to them. Theatre audiences are not given this sort of intense advertising, and therefore, must be reached in a new or different way. Runs are limited, audiences are local, and plays are unknown. So how do you create the sort of interest in plays that turns a risk-averse, aging audience into a young audience, hungry for the next big play, checking the listings to see where they should go?

One step may just be what you're reading right now: Grassroots and blogging. Not too toot our collective horns (we're not anything to write home about yet) the fact is that media is far more democratic than it once was, and opinion is far less of a precious commodity. I'm sure Charles Isherwood and Ben Brantley don't feel competitive with the blogsphere, partially because they welcome (or I would hope they welcome) a healthy discussion of their criticism and an acknowledgment that someone is paying careful attention. Broad discussion is good for us.

So...what did I think of PIG FARM? It's a lot of fun. I haven't seen URINETOWN (can't afford it) but I can see why Isaac is so enthusiastic about this play. It's got physically inventive comedy, gracefully enacted. The language is joyfully bizarre and distanced. The direction GETS the text perfectly, and the actors all seem in just the right world. I laughed my ass off. I would. I'm 30.

Basically, there crowd for this play didn't really get it. I don't blame them. It wasn't precious, wasn't meaningful and there weren't any songs or moments of flashy stagecraft. It's a big fatty cheeseburger from a Gourmet restaurant, cooked bloody red. It's for those of us that go to Paul's on St. Marks and don't make reservations for French cuisine each weekend. It's a play for the kind of people I WISH were going to the theatre more often.

SO, for all of y'all that want to see something worth your time, and to show that there is a young audience out there that would like to check out this type of theater... here's a discount code provided by the Roundabout for slightly less expensive seats:

35% off tickets to Pig Farm, now through September 3rd Only. Tickets only $39.75-$46.75 (reg $56.25-$66.25)
Call 212-719-1300 or visit
www.roundabouttheatre.org. Be sure to use code PFINTE. Offer subject to availability. Cannot be combined with any other offer.

Hopefully in the future that discount will say $20. But that won't happen unless we make it clear that we're interested in coming to see these plays.

Other thoughts on PIG FARM...



Anonymous said...

I didn't want to go because I hate the title "Pig Farm" ...does taht make me shallow?

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely going to try to check it out.

I was watching TV last night and realized that if something is advertised in a big glitzy way nowadays, I don't want to see it. I really tend to follow my instincts and the recommendations of articles, blogs, and word of mouth. It's amazing that in this day and age, word of mouth is really the best way to find out about the next big thing.

Jamespeak said...

That seems to be the real "Catch-22" of this show: the audience that would really appreciate it (i.e., twenty- and thirtysomethings) generally can't afford to pay $60 to $70 for a ticket, and those who generally can (or, more specifically, those who have a subcription to the Roundabout's season. i.e., septegenarians, from the look of the crowd the night we went) wouldn't seem to appreciate or get it.

Adam Szymkowicz said...

I was totally not going to see this show because I had no interest in a play about a pig farm but after reading all your reviews I am definitely going... if I can get some half price tix.

Art said...

The problem goes a little deeper too.

On my blog, I was commenting on your conclusion, Joshua, and it occured to me that the audience for this play can just watch a Kevin Smith movie on On Demand for less than the service charge for tickets in some cases.

Anonymous said...

hmmm... I never expected to post on a blog, but I just saw Pig Farm tonight and loved it. So did the three other 55+ longterm Roundabout subscribers I went with. On the other hand, the only other people I know who saw it were both under 35 and they walked out at intermission. So I can't help feeling there is a certain out-of-line smugness in the blog reviewers' comments about how this play was written for young audiences; how the Roundabout's subscribers are far too old, staid, and fixed in their ideas to get it, and the rest of the easy stereotyping in some of the reviews. I've been getting subversive theater for decades, although I also have no problem loving a great revival of an old play (and hating a bad one).

I must say I didn't understand what all the hype for Urinetown was about, so I wasn't looking forward to seeing Pig Farm. So it was a revelation to see that this play is great fun and the cast's capacity to keep up a high style of farcical overstatement is a joy. Denis O'Hare is phenomenal. Of course, the guy me kept saying, "They're overacting!" so it's true that not everyone could wrap themselves around it.

Anyway, go enjoy yourself. It's not important but it's a breath of fresh air.