When talk turns to low show attendance here in Vancouver, inevitably someone in the crowd is going to blame either the ‘Great Outdoors’ or our ‘Natural Beauty’ as the single greatest enemy in our fight to fill seats. This weekend’s long-awaited approximation of summer to the tune of 30+ degrees certainly put up a good argument in defence of that position. So holding a Saturday matinee at this time of year, and on a long weekend to boot, was some pretty ambitious and optimistic scheduling. Nevertheless, one local indie company did just that, and apparently the turnout wasn’t all that epic. It was, however, apparently just enough.
Now, I myself did not go to the play in question, although I have been meaning to; its reviews have been pretty solid, I love the work and its one of the first plays I ever did as a young actor. I couldn’t make this matinee because I had to work (although, truth be told, I would probably have been at the beach anyway). The night bartender that relieved me did see it however – this guy would pass up front row tickets to the Rapture for a half decent play – and he told me all about it, as he is wont to do. But what really interested me was how he launched his tale of the tape, indulge me as I share that shift change-over conversation…
As my relief tells it, he was the reason the play went on this particular afternoon. “?”, says I. “Well, they said they weren’t going to go up unless they had at least four people in the audience, and I was number four”. I pressed him as to whether the person dealing with the box office might have been kidding. “No, there were three people waiting in the foyer that couldn’t buy tickets until I’d bought mine. They looked pretty happy when I showed up. It was a little feeling of power, really.” (He’s Welsh.) So, as the play was a three-hander, we can assume that someone involved with the production had decreed that they would not take the stage until there were more people in the house than there were on the stage. My bartender was their tipping point.
I’m completely flummoxed by this. Is this an old theatre custom that I’m unaware of? Are there financial considerations here that are beyond my grasp? Surely if you advertise a product and even one person goes out of their way to take you up on your offer you have a responsibility to give them their time and their money’s worth. Are we at a stage in our evolution as entrepreneurs that we can be enforcing mandatory minimums of our clientele? Or is it unfair to the performers to have to play to a crowd numbering less than their own? What do you guys think?