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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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On the other hand...Box Office Numbers

I know that much of the theater going on in NYC is under a 501(c)3 banner, and that mission-driven grants and fund-raising are a bigger part of our world than are ticket sales... but ticket sales do matter. Obviously, Off-Off or Indie Theater is hard to keep track of that way: there are too many companies to expect buy-in, the record keeping can be spotty, a lot depends on the venue. Still, wouldn't it be interesting to see a website much like Box Office Mojo for Indie Theatre?

Here's why it would useful.

First of all, there's a horse racing element to this type of thing that draws interest. Period. Half of the interest people have in politics is about numbers. Same is true of baseball. People like statistics, they like to see records broken, they like to know when something is successful and why.

Beyond this, it's educational. How many seats are actually sold to any given production? How many of those seats were given away? How many Equity cards were used to get in the door? How profitable are most shows? How much did they cost? How much did the producers make?

Part of this just helps the community discuss what is fair price. They can also get a better sense of which companies are actually getting butts in the seats. It also can be an indicator of price as a part of the decision making process for theatergoers. Or, better yet, an indicator of how people are making decisions at all. If most of the highest grossing Off-Off Broadway shows are in one venue, for example, that becomes something to think about. Does a venue have fans? Does a particular playwright sell tickets? A particular actor?

It might also be (and is likely to be) sobering. I'd count that as a good. Many companies complain that their costs outpace their actual take at the door. I'd like to see that. I'd love to wake people up to the actual cost of doing business in the more intimate venues in town, and see if that sparks some discussion in the wider community.

I think really the only way to make it work feasibly is to ask venues to report their numbers, and have those venues get agreements from individual shows that are being run to report those numbers as well. Then, a website could publish the top 10 of the weekend on a Monday. Perhaps you could say the name of the show, the reported cost of the production, number of tickets sold and at what price, number of performances, the gross box office up to the current date, etc. Instead of starting with all the venues in town (hard to pull off) you'd just pick a few well-trod stages like The Access, The Brick, Under St. Marks, The Kraine, The Metropolitan Playhouse, etc. Then theaters that want to report can self-select.

So...I offer this idea up. What do you think?


Gyda said...

That sounds awesome. Maybe an arm of LIT?

RLewis said...

I think this is a terrific idea! I also think that it would be utterly impossible to pull off to any meaningful degree, but nice try. Most Indie Theaters can barely keep their own accounting books, and a lot don’t even do that. Adding another layer of admin’ – and this is no small layer – to these small companies would be overwhelming the already overwhelmed.

It made me think of the new Cultural Data Project (http://www.nysculturaldata.org/home.aspx). A lot of future grant- and policy- making will be based on theater groups’ participation in this giant tracking experiment; but no surprise, the theatrosphere has yet to even mention it. And like the census, it will be the small and under-funded who will not take part in this, i.e. Indie Theaters. It’s just too burdensome of a commitment. And that will give govt and philanthropic folks reasons to discount us… again.

With any of these important statistic-related projects, I think it comes down to: where are the resources to accomplish such things that put no direct money back into the companies who are already overworked and under-paid? And it’s just more fun to start work on the next production instead.

As for putting it on LIT, I’d say - keep in mind that they are just a collection of individual theatermakers – they have their own theater companies, their own projects to realize, their own day-jobs, their own families, etc. There’s barely time for them to be LIT, so I think something like this would be over its current capacity unless a ton more theaters become members and help out. So, before nominating them to do more, join them. And make sure the other theaters you work with join, too.

Unknown said...

I am definitely interested in this as well. It would be interesting to see what organization has the access, time, and resources to make it reality.