Friday, January 30, 2009

Boston theatre gets a lift

I found a couple of interesting stories in The Boston Globe this week about how the recession is - or isn't - affecting theatre.

First, there's an article by Rich Fahey about the steps community theatre companies in Massachusetts are taking to survive. While they're mostly run by volunteers, they still have bills to pay.

Rent, utilities, maintenance, costumes, sets and rights fees to put on shows are some of the expenses. So they're reusing costumes, trying to get innovative with fundraisers, doing their own repairs if they own their building and adjusting what they offer to the public.

The story says that these troupes are going for what's cheap and familiar - Neil Simon comedies, Agatha Christie mysteries. Productions that don't require lots of scenery, like Thorton Wilder's Our Town, or big casts, like A.B. Gurney's Love Letters, are in. Elaborate musicals or weighty dramas are out. (Although Our Town is hardly escapist.)

"Many of our theaters have changed the way they work," said Robert Hallissey, president of the Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theatres. "They're less likely to take a chance on less well-known shows, and concentrate instead on plays guaranteed to bring in an audience."

Well I think there's room for both escapist fare and weighty drama. Sometimes, when things are rough, you want entertainment that speaks to the anxieties in your life. At other times, you want to forget about those things and be transported someplace different for a couple of hours.

That brings me to my second noteworthy story. I've never even seen the 1987 movie, so I can't say why it's so popular. But apparently, Dirty Dancing has lots of fans and they'll be coming by the busload to see the musical version in Boston starting next week. (After reading Vance's review/warning at Tapeworthy, I think I'll steer clear of this one.)

Tickets for the musical, which range from $30 to $132.50, are selling quite well, according to an article by Meredith Goldstein. (Wow, $132.50 for a theatre ticket in Boston? That's unbelievable!) The show was slated to run at the Opera House from Feb. 7 to March 15 and has already been extended, to April 12, due to strong advance sales.

"This is doing by far much, much better than other shows," says Drew Murphy, president of Broadway Across America-Boston. He tells The Globe that 90 percent of seats at weekend performances in February and March have been sold. "It's bringing out a lot of your nontraditional theater audience, the people who normally wouldn't buy a theater ticket."

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