by Sara Rae Womack
Catherine Tate, British comedian and film/theatre actress (whose most exciting credit, to me, is that of the outlandish Sarah Jane Moore in last year’s Menier Chocolate Factory production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, against the delicious Aaron Tveit) was quoted as saying, “If you want more people to come to the theatre, don’t put the prices at £50. You have to make theatre inclusive, and at the moment the prices are exclusive.”
That last one is a simple sentence, but a complex situation.
There is so much wonderful theatre going on in this city. There are so many wicked talented actors, technicians, and creatives making magic happen in this little gem in the Midwest. On any given weekend, there are a dozen choices for the theatre-goer. We have big show-stopping spectacle musicals. We have little down-and-dirty unknown musicals. We have Shakespeare. We have experimental theatre. We have door-slamming farces, heart-wrenching dramas, shiver-inducing mysteries. How does one fit it all in? And how does one fit it into the budget??
I generally expect to pay around $25 to see a show. Now, I’m a single lady, so $25 doesn’t sound bank-breaking. But, if I were to see 1 show a week, that’s $1,300 (Yes, I double checked my math…)! And imagine if I had a fella- that would make it $2,600… add dinner and a drink at the show… you’re looking at quite a chunk of change.
Now, I’m not saying that those dollars are not well-spent. Theatre is SO worth it. In fact, I don’t believe that there’s an establishment I’d rather support than a local theatre. In this city, we sure do get our “money’s worth.” We pay for the moment. We pay for the living, breathing artists who share a story that will never again be played with precisely the same nuance. Sometimes we pay for the missed cue or dropped prop (my dad LOVES it when things go wrong in the theatre. I think we all do. We like being “in the know.” The people who “saw it that one time when…”).
Now, I’m certainly not a producer, but I’d say often times we are paying for the empty seats beside us. We are a theatre-loving community, us wacky St. Louisans, but we can’t see it all. And I’m the first to admit- if I only have 1 night to see a show, and I have to choose between, say, West Side Story or an obscure Pinter play, I’m gonna Jet it up. Our more experimental companies, who are doing INCREDIBLE work don’t always get enough butts in the seats. (Note to self- see the obscure Pinter play next time!!)
And then there’s the fact that many of these companies are trying desperately to pay their actors and crew a decent stipend for their unending passion and GIGANTIC commitment. If the ticket prices were to drop- where would that money come from?
I don’t know what the answer is. However, there are many companies in town who do their best to make theatre more accessible.
There is, of course, our fabulous and world-renowned Muny. 1,456 FREE seats offered for 7 productions a season, 7+ performances a piece; it’s almost unthinkable. And just up the hill, we have the incredible Shakespeare Festival St. Louis in Shakespeare Glen, where we will get to see the fan favorite A Midsummer Night’s Dream this year (this very well may be the show I’m most looking forward to this summer! Check it out June 3-26). Many companies have a “Pay-what-you-can” night on select Thursday nights- a night that would oftentimes get less traffic. Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble is among this group, along with Mustard Seed Theatre, R-S Theatrics, and I’m sure many others (send us an email, you others!). New Line Theatre also offers a bounty of discounts; this being their 25th season, the Bad Boy of Musical Theatre offers 25 tickets for $.25 for their Thursday night preview (one ticket per person). New Line also offers 10 free tickets to college students with a valid ID for each of their mainstage performances, and half price tickets to Thursday performances for educators and active duty military personnel. There’s also many opportunities for student rush discounts- STAGES St. Louis, The Rep, and The Fox chief among them- for those youngsters who are lucky enough to still be formal students (I wish I could go back to college…). And of course, theatres always love their volunteers! Usher, usher, usher…
We all love theatre. It’s magical that any one show ever even gets written and produced, let alone produced in this city, where we have some of the most incredible talent in the country. I’m just going to relish in the fact that there’s too much theatre to be able to see. Isn’t it an incredible problem to have? I’ll go see a play, you go see a play. Let’s see as many plays as we can. Let’s see plays we know nothing about! Go see the obscure Pinter play on a Thursday night when you can scrounge up enough money to “pay-what-you-can.” I’ll be in the lobby, nursing a bourbon and cranberry. And I’ll agree that I have no idea what the show’s about.
Sara Rae is a St. Louis-based actor and choreographer who has been seen professionally at The Muny, Stray Dog Theatre, Act, Inc., and Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre.
***DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of THE SCENE SHOP.