[Dixielandjazz] The Classical Music Audience - De Ja Vu OKOM?

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 9 06:30:54 PDT 2006

The Classical Music concert audience is almost a carbon copy of the OKOM
audience, not the following from the Metropolitan Opera, NYC.

Their basic problem is that less people come out to hear the music each year
and those that do average 65 years of age. (or older)


Sound familiar?

Steve Barbone

NY TIMES - October 9, 2006 - By ROBIN POGREBIN

Operas for $20? New Audiences Hear Siren Song

Jaws no longer drop at the thought of paying $375 for a prime seat at the
Metropolitan Opera.

It¹s the $20 orchestra seats that have people gaping.

Last week, the opera house announced that it would sell 200 seats for every
weeknight performance for just $20 each. Tickets for these seats, which
would normally sell for $100, go on sale two hours before curtain time. On
Tuesday, the day of the announcement, 160 tickets were sold in 20 minutes.
The remaining 40 were sold out by 7:10 p.m.

Next door at Lincoln Center, the New York City Opera is in its second season
of ³Opera-for-All,² selling every seat in the house for $25 on eight
evenings over the course of the season. Then there is City Center, where the
third season of the Fall for Dance festival, with all tickets priced at $10,
concluded Sunday. And the Off Broadway Signature Theater Company, which
specializes in American playwrights, is selling every seat at $15 during the
eight-week scheduled run of each show through the spring.

Perhaps not since the early 1970¹s, when Broadway introduced the TKTS booth,
have the performing arts in New York seen such sweeping moves to draw
audiences by offering inexpensive tickets.

The discounts, underwritten for the most part by corporate donors, are an
effort to compete for leisure time with an increasing array of multimedia
offerings and, in an era when patrons of the theater, opera and classical
music are aging rapidly, to reach a younger, more diverse population.

³We¹ve watched audiences decline in a rather alarming way and we have to do
something to bring people back in,² said Paul Kellogg, the general and
artistic director of City Opera. ³The competition across generational lines
is Netflix and pretty much anything on the Web, and we need to be active in
getting people out of their houses and into a theater.²

Cheap tickets are one of the major weapons in the arsenal. The approach
arrives at a time when arts institutions ‹ from museums, where admission can
go as high as $20, to the opera, to Broadway theaters, where $100 is now the
benchmark ‹ have been criticized for increasing prices even though their
costs keep going up. Ticket sales declined precipitously after 9/11 and have
never been as dependable since. Subscription sales have also fallen as more
people forgo advance purchases for last-minute plans.

The Met¹s $20 ticket program is part of a larger effort by the new general
manager, Peter Gelb, to throw wide the doors of the opera house. A free open
dress rehearsal with brown-bag lunch last month was followed by a populist
opening night ‹ with the gala performance of ³Madama Butterfly² simulcast
free on large screens on the Lincoln Center Plaza and in Times Square.

³The goal is to broaden our audience and to fill the house,² Mr. Gelb said.
³The average age was 65 when I arrived.²

At all of these institutions, box office response has been overwhelming. The
Signature¹s $15 tickets ‹ which normally go for $55 ‹ sold out within the
first 48 hours for August Wilson¹s ³Two Trains Running,² which begins on
Nov. 7. City Center¹s six-day dance festival sold out in three days last
year, so the program was extended to 10 days this year; more than half of
the 2006 festival¹s 27,530 tickets sold in a single day.

³We were all amazed that out of the woodwork these people came roaring up,²
said Norman Peck, the president of the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, one of
the festival¹s sponsors, ³and they¹re just the kind of people you want to

³If you don¹t do something, you¹ll be left with guys who have false teeth
and white hair,² added Mr. Peck, whose foundation also supports
Opera-for-All. ³Eventually, they¹ll all die and you¹ll have nothing.²

In the first year of City Opera¹s Opera-for-All ‹ which includes
introductory videos before the performance ‹ 71 percent of the audience had
never been to City Opera before, and the two performances sold out. Of those
who attended, 11 percent came back to the series this year, Mr. Kellogg
said, a significant return, given that direct mail efforts typically average
0.1 percent to 3 percent response.

This season, City Opera obtained e-mail addresses and other contact
information from everyone who bought a $25 ticket; 90 percent had never been
in the data base before, something that Mr. Kellogg called ³one of the most
encouraging and astounding statistics I¹ve seen at City Opera in a long,
long time.²

To be sure, discounted tickets are nothing new; for years, people have been
streaming to the TKTS booths to buy cheap seats at Broadway shows, and
students have lined up for the $20 seats at ³Rent,² for example. But when
cultural organizations sold cheap tickets, they were usually for the
less-attractive seat locations. Carnegie Hall, for example, sells
partial-view $10 seats on the day of the performance, subject to
availability, from noon until one hour before curtain.

When discounted tickets are completely underwritten by donors, arts
organizations don¹t lose money.

At City Center, the supporters of Fall for Dance included Time Warner and
Altria Group, as well as the Sharp Foundation. Together the three
contributed about $500,000 to the festival. In the case of the Met, the
opera house is even making money on the tickets. That¹s because one board
member, Agnes Varis, along with her husband, Karl Leichtman, bought the $2
million worth of orchestra seats included in the program. Then the opera
house resells 200 of them at $20 each two hours before curtain time as long
that many unsold seats remains. Most of these seats are in the rear and side
of the orchestra, but some are as close as four rows from the stage.

Mr. Gelb said he thought it was appropriate to charge for the seats, rather
than give them away ³to get new audience members into the habit of paying
for the tickets.²

At City Opera, Opera-for-All is more of a sacrifice for the company, since
the program is not completely subsidized. Even though the special
performances sell out at $25 a ticket, the revenue falls short of what the
company would bring in on a regular night, even at 70 percent capacity, Mr.
Kellogg said. The program costs $594,000 and City Opera expects to lose
$300,000 on it this year.

³Whether this is going to convert into a long term major gain in audience ‹
I don¹t think anybody knows that yet,² Mr. Kellogg said. ³But clearly it
would be a wonderful thing and every company ought to try to do this, to get
these tickets underwritten so you can continue to bring people in who are
price sensitive. Then that¹s the future.²

Some sponsors worry that the discounted seats won¹t actually attract new
audiences, but that instead, tickets will be snatched up by people who would
otherwise have paid full price. As a result, cultural institutions take a
great interest in who is buying the seats. ³We want this work to be viewed
and seen by people who don¹t always have the opportunity to go to theater,²
said James Houghton, artistic director at the Signature.

And, so far, that seems to be the case. City Center¹s surveys showed that 30
percent of those who attended the first two years of Fall for Dance were
under 30; that 30 percent had never been to City Center before; and that 20
percent had either never been to a dance performance or had rarely attended

It was important that there be a way to track who was coming, said Lisa
Quiroz, the senior vice president for corporate responsibility at Time
Warner, which helped underwrite the Signature¹s ticket program as well as
Fall for Dance. ³It was a test.²

Arlene Shuler, the president and chief executive of City Center, said she
was thrilled to learn that among the survey respondents was a young man who
said he saw an ad for the festival on the subway and figured it would be a
cheap date. 

³I wanted to keep it less than the price of a movie,² Ms. Shuler said. ³For
$10,² she added, ³people are more likely to say, ŒI can come and take a
chance.¹ ²

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