Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008

Consumer Stage Economics

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The size of an audience going to “some bullshit musical at the Marcus Center”* (or the Milwaukee Theatre for that matter) is considerably larger than what would be seen at a main stage show at the Rep. The audience seeing just about any show at the Rep is considerably larger than the one attending a show by a smaller company. More people go to shows by bigger theatre companies because bigger theatre companies are better known. Bigger theatre companies are better known because more people go to them. None of this usually has anything to do with quality.

The Rep:

There’s very little doubt that Milwaukee Rep’s production of Enchanted April is doing relatively well. There’s no question this production of that the play deserves good business.

What You Get:

The stage adaptation of the Elizabeth Von Arnim novel about a group of British women who escape their dreary post-World War One lives to vacation in Italy is a charming look into the effect of conflict on identity and all kinds of other things. The Rep cast, largely consisting of Equity actresses drawn from the Rep’s resident acting program brings he play to the stage wonderfully. Sets and costuming are every bit as good as the acting.

What You Pay:

somewhere between $23 and $35. With parking and such, that ends up being somewhere between $70 and $100 for a pair of people spending an evening in the theatre district with Elizabeth Von Arnim’s placidly compelling story. It’s worth it.

Acacia:

Approximately one year ago, Acacia Theatre in Mequon did a much more modest production of the exact same play.

What You Woudl've Gotten:

The acting, while not performed by professional actors, was remarkably good in places. Some of the acting in the Acacia production was every bit as good as the Rep production. The earnest sweetness of Maureen Dornemann’s Rose Arnott in last year’s Acacia production was every bit as compelling as the dynamic strength of Laura Gordon’s Rose Arnott in this year’s Rep production. The set, though impressive, was not quite as polished. The costuming was okay.

What You Would Have Paid:

$15. As parking is free, the only other expenses incurred here are the gas used to get out to Acacia Theater’s space in Mequon. True, it’s not in the theatre district, but all the bars and restaurants and things associated with good theatre aren’t that far away by car.

The Acacia show costs considerably less than going to a Rep show. Is the theatergoer actually getting that much less of an experience? No. And yet far fewer people will have attended the Acacia production than had seen the Rep production. Why? Because more people know about the Rep. Why? Because more people go to it. Why? Because more people know about it. And so on.

Acacia’s next show is Blessed Assurance, which opens February 29th. A black woman working as a cook in the white house in 1965 demands her right to vote in a cleverly-chosen play for a year when the women and African Americans stand to be so influential in the general elections. Maureen Dornemann, who like many others in town, performs with the poise of a professional actress for a fraction of the price, can be seen in Catholic School Girls at the Boulevard Theatre in Bay View through March 16. Tickets at the Boulevard are $20.

*As Quoted by the former Artistic Director of a local theatre company.
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