Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Bill of Rights for Broadway ticket-buyers

Since I started going to Broadway shows, in April 2007, most of my experiences have been great. But I've also learned a lot about what can go wrong. So here's my suggestion for a ticket-buyer's Bill of Rights.

Sure they're obvious to veteran theatergoers but maybe not to people seeing their first show. And they're pretty simple steps. Let's face it, the producers are selling a product and we consumers should be able to make an informed purchase.

1.) Websites and promotional materials should list the date of preview performances and the expected opening night.

Sure, you can find the date a play or musical begins previews by Googling it - but why should you have to do that? You don't have to go to a third-party website to find out basic information about any other product.

In fact, not properly labeling preview performances may be a violation of New York's consumer protection laws.

Ticket buyers, 63 percent of whom are tourists and some of whom may be first-time Broadway theatergoers, should know when they're seeing a work in progress as opposed to the finished product.

2.) The ticket seller should list the dates when an above-the-title star will not be performing.

Right now if you go to Telecharge you can buy a ticket through the first week of November for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, starring Daniel Radcliffe.

There are no dates listed for Radcliffe's vacation but he could take a week off in the summer or fall and when that happens, there are going to be some mighty disappointed Harry Potter fans. Of course they can get a refund but what if they've come to New York expressly to see him and can't easily return?

(I'm just using this show as an example since he'll be one of the biggest names on Broadway this spring. He may not take a vacation, the show may not last until November. Who knows?)

As I learned with La Cage aux Folles, sometimes there's no way to tell when you buy your ticket whether or not the star will performing. And I'm talking about planned vacations. While I ended up loving the musical with the understudy, it's an expensive crap shoot that ticket-buyers shouldn't be forced to play.

Producers, make an agreement about vacation time at the beginning of the run and inform the public. I realize this will result in your box office dropping for that week but selling tickets knowing the star won't be appearing is false advertising.

3.) Promotional material should state that the play or musical could close at any time, even it's advertised as a limited run.

What? Everyone knows a show could close at any time. Well as I found out with Elling - not everyone does.

When the producers announced it was closing, a week after opening night, I went to the show's Facebook page and saw comments from disappointed Brendan Fraser fans in England and Australia. They bought airline tickets and booked hotel rooms in anticipation of seeing him onstage. And it sounded like they couldn't easily get their money back.

If they'd known the play might not last its advertised 20 weeks, they might have waited until after the reviews came out before making their plans.


BroadwayAddict said...

I see what you mean about posting vacation time (and some shows are really good about this), but that won't solve all disappointments about stars being out - sometimes people get sick, or are put on vocal rest, and there will always be unexpected instances when understudies need to go on. Maybe advertising to people less familiar with theater should make a note that any one person's appearance cannot be guaranteed, but I think before buying a ticket, people should ask themselves, "would I still want to see this if Patti LuPone weren't in it?" Or perhaps advertisers should spend as much time advertising the show itself than merely plugging its stars. The shows are actually good, even without the big names in them. In December, I saw understudies for Emily Skinner and Sherie Rene Scott, and I thought they were both fantastic - the "star" being gone didn't diminish the shows for me.
I enjoyed your ideas on rights for ticket buyers - I definitely agree that advertising is not geared toward people who don't already know their way around Broadway, and every theatergoer deserves to know exactly what they are getting - or could be getting.

JK said...


I totally agree about the vacations! Read this, about what the public thinks about previews vs. open shows: today's blog at http://www.theproducersperspective.com

I think you'll be surprised.

Esther said...

Thanks for the comment, Broadway Addict! I realize emergencies do crop up but my point was, if it's a planned vacation, where the producers know in advance, it doesn't seem fair to keep the ticket buyers in the dark.

That's a good point about people needing to ask themselves whether they'd still want to see the show regardless. I agree, I've seem some awesome understudies. But it should be the consumer's choice.

Esther said...

Hey Jeff, thanks for the comment, as always!

I did read Ken's column and left a comment. Basically, it all depends on who you ask and how you frame the question and I disagree with his sample and methodology.

A TKTS line in the 2nd week in January is not a typical "Broadway audience." I doubt there were too many out-of-town tourists. And as we know, they buy 63 percent of the tickets.

Secondly, it's one thing to ask about previews but what if the question were framed this way:

Would you want to see a show in which some of the performers may not know their lines, parts of the set could get stuck, forcing the show to stop, and songs / dialogue could get changed as it moves toward opening night? I mean, that's really what a preview is for some shows.

Clearly Ken Davenport framed the question and selected the sample in a way that would be most advantageous to him. Nothing wrong with that but it's further proof of why someone needs to look out for consumers.

Pam said...

I love your Bill of Rights and appreciate you educating me (a newbie theatergoer) to the issues I should be aware of. If it wasn't for your last post about previews, I wouldn't have even been aware of what a preview was let alone that I should be careful when booking tickets. Thanks!

Esther said...

Hey Pam, thanks for the comment!

Like I said, with some shows, especially ones that don't have heavy technical requirements, seeing a preview may not make as much of a difference. Likewise, if it's had an out-of-town tryout or it's transferring from another theatre. But if it's a show that's starting previews cold on Broadway or it's technically complex, with lots of intricate sets, I'd give it a week or two if possible!

In any case, the consumer should have enough information to make a decision and not have to go hunting around for it.

Anonymous said...

I think Daniel Radcliffe is a great example, since I'd be very surprised if the premiere of the final Harry Potter film this year doesn't affect his appearances in How to Succeed in some way or other - whether that's an extended break from the show or the occasional missed performance, that should be something that is clearly advertised.

I agree with all these suggestions, by the way!

Esther said...

Thanks, crossoverman! That's a good point about the Harry Potter movie. I hadn't even thought about it. The current release date is July 15. If the producers know right now that he'll have to take time off that week, they should let ticket-buyers know. I mean, July is a prime tourist month.