Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Cheap Seats

A Night At The Rep On A Budget

By Russ Bickerstaff
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My wife and I found ourselves sitting in the Milwaukee Rep’s  Economy Orchestra seats at the Quadracci last night. The show was clearly a big hit with the nearly sold-out opening night audience, I was actually a little disappointed with The Seven Keys To Slaughter Peak--Joseph Hanreddy’s final show as Artistic Director. I’ll take the time to get into why tomorrow. By and large, this is a fun comedy anyway. And right now I want to talk about the seats.

Having gone to the Rep for a number of years now, I’ve had the opportunity to sit nearly everywhere in the Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre. Last night we sat in one of the few places I haven’t had the pleasure of sitting: the Economy Orchestra Section. Unlike the economy Balcony seating, which costs just as much and offers a far more limited view of things onstage, the Economy Orchestra section offers a relatively intimate, ground floor view of things that’s only a bit skewed. And it’s far cheaper than seats only a bit more centered with respect to the action . . . In making an effort to promote what really is an amazing theatre scene, I keep find myself thinking in terms of speaking to those people who spend money on movies at a multiplex.

When you’re looking at budget, you’re getting a very comparable, far more entertaining experience at the theatre. And if you’re sitting in budget seats at the Rep, you’re only paying a little more . . . and while I’d like to think the average filmgoer would have a great time shelling out $15 for a fun comedy in a small space like 8-Bit Warrior at the Alchemist, I know that for the average filmgoer, there’s probably kind of an intimidation factor in going to a live show in a very small space. There’s a level of informality in the smaller spaces that can feel kind of weird for someone that is used to the commercial-grade anonymity of a comfy multiplex.

Though the Quadracci has far more personality than the average multiplex, going to a show with the kind of budget the Rep can afford with the kind of performances found in the latest show and the kind of material found in The Seven Keys of Slaughter Peak should appeal to almost anyone. And it’s comparably priced to a night out at a movie.

A quick, biased comparison:

Two people are going out to see . . . .say . . . Hot Tub Time Machine at a multiplex. There’s kind of a long drive involved, but the parking is free and it’s a relatively short walk to the mall or the standalone multiplex.

Meanwhile . . . Two other people are going out to see The Seven Keys of Slaughter Peak at the Quadracci. The drive is quicker for anyone living in town, though parking can be kind of difficult to find downtown. Go long enough before a show and you’ll find fairly decent free parking within walking distance. If you want to park really close, you can . . . but that’s going to cost a few dollars.

So far: The multiplex seems more convenient.

THEN: The two people going to the multiplex may stop off for a quick bite to eat before the show. It’ll be cheap, mass produced food that they don’t have to think about all that much. There are some places that have in-theatre eating and those can be nice, but the menu tends to be a little limited.

Meanwhile . . . The two people who are going to the Rep can choose from very nice restaurants or something far more informal. Decent ethnic food is usually available without much of a wait downtown. On the other end of things, an obscenely cheap sub sandwich is really easy to find not far from the Quadracci.

So far: The multiplex may be more convenient, but there may be less of an option as far as pre-show food goes . . .

THEN: The two people going in to see Hot Tub Time Machine pay $10 each for tickets. $20 guarantees seating somewhere in a large theatre with comfortable seats.

Meanwhile . . . The two people going to Seven Keys pay $15 each for economy orchestra seats. $30 gets a nice, ground floor view of the show . . . the Michael Ganio’s beautifully moody set isn’t quite as visible as it is from a more centralized perspective, but the seats are comfortable and comfortably removed from the intense intimacy of smaller theatres for people not as used to theatre.

So far: The filmgoers are clearly spending a little less money here for a little more convenience. The least you’d be paying at the Rep providing you went for a sub beforehand: maybe $50. The least you’d pay if you ate before the movie: like . . .$30 or so.

THE SHOW: the film at the multiplex is pretty cheap humor that doesn’t ask for much from its audience . . . and there are almost certainly some other mindless comedies with slightly more sophisticated humor at any multiplex. The extreme casualness of the evening sort of works against the whole experience. You may as well download a movie from iTunes or Netflix or shoot out to a Redbox and eat in front of the TV. It would be cheaper and less work. True, your television probably doesn’t have the kind sound or massive picture you’d get at the multiplex, but you’re not really going to a light comedy to experience those things. You’re going to a light comedy to laugh, which works just as well at home.

Though reasonably sophisticated in places, the humor in the Rep’s Seven Keys is also pretty cheap and doesn’t really ask for much from its audience. The humor is delivered every bit as well as that seen on the screen. There’s a little bit of everything here . . . romance, intrigue, murder . . . zombies and a twist at the end. It’s fun stuff and though you’re paying $10 - $20 more than you would at the cinema, the experience you’ve had at the end of the evening is that much more of why you’re going out to see a comedy. You’re going out to have a slightly formal evening with someone away from home. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of doing that, why not spend a little more and see something that won’t be available for a $1 rental at the Red Box in a couple of months? Why not see something written and directed by someone who has been working with an outstanding cast for a number of years? Then maybe a week later we can talk you into going to the Alchemist or the Boulevard for something a bit more intimate. . .

The Rep’s production of The Seven Keys To Slaughter Peak  runs through April 18th. A review of the show appears here tomorrow.

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