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Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein

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� Theater shuffle at Broadway in Chicago | Main | Rising stars '09: Our annual roundup of hot, new faces of Chicago theater �Originally posted: July 23, 2009'Blackbird,' 'Cavalia': Want to see a hit play? Expect to pay extra• Hawkinson wipes the floor with Petersen in 'Blackbird' (review posted July 14, 2009) • Life-affirming stories in Lookingglass Theatre's 'Arabian Nights' (review published June 1, 2009)• Thoughtful, personal 'Graceland' at Profiles (review published May 30, 2009) • 'Cavalia' in Chicago: Horses call the shots under the big top (review�posted July 15, 2009)On Monday, the Victory Gardens Theater proudly announced a one-week extension (through Aug.

16) of its hit production "Blackbird," starring William Petersen.

Buried a lot deeper in the press release was another salient fact: The ticket price had gone up by 10 bucks.

This is getting to be a habit around here.

Just a week earlier, I got a similar announcement by the producers of "Cavalia," the costly equine extravaganza staged in the West Loop.

That show, too, was announcing an "extension." There was no mention that ticket prices had also gone up by 10 bucks or so.

If you already caught the Lookingglass Theatre Company production of Mary Zimmerman's "The Arabian Nights" (now extended through Aug.

30), you caught yourself a deal.

Those prices have gone up too—the top is now $66 instead of $60.

But if you read my rave review of "Graceland" at Profiles Theatre but waited to get tickets, a weekend performance now costs $35 instead of $30.

We try hard to keep the dates and prices in our reviews accurate.

But it takes constant vigilance, because ticket prices get raised quietly.

Sometimes very quietly.

Is this a cause for outrage? Well, one can surely see the theaters' perspectives.

Take Victory Gardens—an honorable institution dedicated to new works.

It has a hit on its hands.

The demand for tickets last week was so great, it blew up the theater's phone system.

The theater knows it will have no problem selling every ticket (the extension is limited, due to Petersen's schedule).

By raising the prices $10, it gets to make about $18,000 more, by my back-of-an-envelope math.

A theater spokesman said that Victory Gardens had looked at the prices charged by Goodman and Steppenwolf, come to the conclusion that "Blackbird" was the equal of shows at those theaters (no argument there), and decided there was a decent basis to raise prices.

This is, after all, a non-profit institution; $18,000 can help pay for future plays that don't come with Petersen attached.

You could even argue that those who waited until "Graceland" and "Arabian Nights" were hits should expect to pay more—and those who took an early risk deserve a reward.

There's no question that theaters are late to the table when it comes to demand-based pricing (where prices aren't fixed, but rise as seats become more scarce).

The shrewd Writers' Theatre of Chicago operates that way.

And so, of course, do airlines and hotels, which rely on sophisticated matrices to predict demand on particular flights or nights.

And why not? After the Goodman Theatre jacked up the prices to "A Christmas Carol" during the week before Christmas—when seeing "A Christmas Carol" feels especially great—executive director Roche Schulfer made the eloquent argument that this was prime time, and people who want prime time should pay a premium.

Fair enough.

But this is, after all, a recession.

While I think demand-based pricing is reasonable, theaters must be careful not to get greedy.

You may have noticed some zigzagging in the ticket prices to "Jersey Boys." The show has been doing better by setting prices at a more reasonable level.

Furthermore, fees are proliferating—and fees infuriate people.

If you take a hike to the "Cavalia" box office, you still pay about $9.50 a ticket in booking fees.

Now, these fees originated from third-party groups like Ticketmaster.

But "Cavalia" owns its own box office and thus has no business charging fees to a personal caller, ready to be handed his or her tickets.

Victory Gardens tacks on a few bucks too.

I think people prefer transparency of price.

There is also a troubling practice of reserving prime seating blocks for premium packages, which is another sneaky way of concealing true costs.

I think people see through that too.

All that said, what economists call the opportunity cost of attending theater is so great—you may have to pay a sitter or you may ruin a promising relationship with a companion—I think you're always better off saving up and spending $58 on a show that may be extraordinary than scoring half-price ducats to a piece of garbage.

We try our best to steer you right.

Theaters deserve the chance to make money from a hit.

But I wish Victory Gardens had kept its small student and senior discounts for that extension week.

People in those categories often are making a serious financial commitment to attend a show.

And theaters never know when they might need their best friends.

in Cavalia, Profiles Theatre, Victory Gardens | PermalinkComments Chris,Thanks for the commentary.

Put me in the group that is outraged.

It's "greed" pure and simple.

I have the money to be able to procure tickets but after reading what Victory Gardens did, not only am I not going to deal with getting these "premium" tickets I will never attend a Victory Gardens production again.

It's interesting because at least when Mel Brooks decided to jack up prices for Young Frankenstein he did it before the show opened and didn't play any games after.

That decision was the root of the downfall of that production.The bottom line is Victory Gardens may make some extra money with this, but I'm guessing it will cost them in the long run.I can only hope there are others like me who will boycott companies who practice this kind of behavior.Posted by: Vinny | Jul 23, 2009 12:01:21 PMWhy is it that Writers' Theatre is shrewd for implementing demand-based pricing whereas Victory Gardens is being thrown under the bus? Is Vinny going to boycott every arts institution that tries to make ends meet by aligning supply with demand? Posted by: JB | Jul 23, 2009 1:19:59 PMTheaters should charge what the market will bear.

Quit whining, for crying out loud.Posted by: Whahhuh? | Jul 23, 2009 1:41:59 PMIf people are willing to pay extra for the tickets, why not charge more for them?The "fair" price is whatever people are willing to pay.

If you think people should pay less, buy them a ticket.Posted by: Carl | Jul 23, 2009 1:44:31 PMI don't have a problem with demand based pricing when a hit show is extended or during seasonal popular times.

And I don't have a problem with it happening during a recession.

Arts funding takes a hit during a recession and they should be able to aggressively take advantage of all their options to keep their doors open.

But I have a big problem with box offices, like the Cavalia example, charging a booking fee to people who show up in person at the box office.

If that happened to me, I would just not see the show.

Another reason to despise the evil - Ticketmaster.

They give other greedy people ideas they might not be able to get away with if Ticketmaster had not set the precedent.

Posted by: Gwen C | Jul 23, 2009 1:55:58 PMYeah, why are they being so greedy? Mean CSI guy doesn't have enough money? They should let us in at whatever the play's production cost is.

That's what the Tribune is doing when they charge $65 for Cubs' bleachers against the White Sox and Cardinals rather than $50 at other times.Posted by: What | Jul 23, 2009 1:56:32 PMGood luck boycotting companies who behave this way.

You'll never be able to fly, stay in a hotel, rent a car, or do many many other things which use demand based pricing as their models.

I think Chris' article is great but it misses one major issue, which is the extra cost of extending a show.

If a show extends, Actors Equity (rightfully) demands a raise for the performers, the directors usually get a bump on their salary, back stage crew needs to be hired for longer than budgeted.

In fact, usually the bump in ticket prices is about enough to cover costs.

So why extend? The more people who become aware of your theater the more likely you will attract new subscribers and single ticket buyers to other shows.

A hit show provides the opportunity for growth.

But far from being about greed, this slight bump tends to be about making sure money isn't lost (which it is guaranteed to do during the regular run - thus "not for profit").

I can't speak for commercial ventures, such as Cavalia, but certainly at Victory Gardens this is the case.

And maybe Chicago is blessed, but this also happens to be industry practice at regional theaters across the country.

So I am not sure what the big deal is.Posted by: Kent | Jul 23, 2009 1:58:49 PMOh, I don't know about that.

I mean, I'm a student and I believe in low prices, sure.

And sure we're in a recession so it's harder for patrons.

But of course, it's much harder for theatres.

Victory Gardens is reportedly in a lot of debt.

If they have a hit on their hands, they have every right to reach out to the community for a little more help.

Mel Brooks on the other hand is a multi-millionaire who has had his fair share.

I don't consider this to be greed.

After all...they are serving YOU.

They're providing YOU service.

And in order for them to continue doing so, sometimes they have to ask a little more from you.

Even if that means ten more bucks out of your pocket.

Posted by: Monty | Jul 23, 2009 1:59:36 PMAlso? What this industry lacks is money.

Cinema can receive their dollar bills from box offices all over the world.

Not to mention advertisement placement in their movies.

It's kind of spoiled us.

So because of that, patrons pay something like ten bucks to see a movie.

Sixty dollars to see a show? Haha! On Broadway that would be considered a deal! And arguably, Blackbird is Broadway material if not better.

Posted by: Monty | Jul 23, 2009 2:03:49 PM Forget the larger productions, if you're not wanting to spend alot of $$$.

Go to smaller theatres around the city, as there are plenty.

Cornservatory N.

Lincoln Ave.

Posted by: craig | Jul 23, 2009 2:08:13 PMThis is sad, frankly.

I envisioned taking my 6-year-old son to Cavalia since it seems to model itself on respecting animals for who they are, but there's no way I can afford this.

Instead of offering an opportunity to introduce younger audiences to the world of theater and performance, the very young are functionally excluded.Posted by: kay | Jul 23, 2009 2:13:02 PMIt sounds to me like this is a play Chicagoans want to see.....

Peterson may be the draw but Hawkinson is the one all of my friends have been talking about.

So, why doesn't Victory Gardens recast Peterson's role when he becomes unavailable, extend the show, reduce ticket prices and give a more generous discount for students and seniors? Or is it ALL about the extra $18,000?Posted by: Tony | Jul 23, 2009 2:13:24 PMMany people do not realize that non-profit theaters receive only about 40% (some less, some as much as 50%) of their revenue from ticket sales.

The rest (generally about 60%) comes from charitable giving/contributions.ESPECIALLY these days when endowments have been hit hard and especially because charitable giving is down (particularly from corporations and foundations), that theaters (among other non-profits) MUST be smart and look for ways to increase earned revenue (ticket sales).Charging more for extending a show (which costs money) that is in high demand does give the theater a chance to increase earned revenue - but it is likely going to replace other revenuet hat was lost before.

Additionally, even when times are good - non-profit theaters must take advantage of a well-selling show because a bomb could wreak havoc with their budget.

One show may need to help cover another that isn't selling as well - it's sometimes hard to predict, especially when consumer spending patterns are not consistent (like they are lately).Non-profits are structured in such a way to still remain (relatively) accessible through their ticket prices that are considerably lower than for profit performing arts ventures (i.e.

broadway shows, etc).

It may bite the consumer to have to pay more, but they put on a solid product (in most cases) and are doing more off-stage (education and outreach programs) that most are not aware of.

With arts & culture programs in schools cut or non-existent, these organizations pick up some/much of that slack where possible.Finally - kudos to the marketing departments in these theaters who are thinking strategically on how to increase earned revenue where appropriate.

Sometimes getting this message out to the public on how these organizations are structured (and why) in terms of their revenue - is important (as it's not just a "money grab" scheme).

Thanks for listening - and support your local non-profit performing arts both in ticket sales and your gifts.

They're part of the fabric in our community.Posted by: PJL | Jul 23, 2009 2:23:38 PMThis is a ridiculous question.

We're talking about theater companies, not medical care for the poor.

Theaters are entitled to charge as much as they can get and I am free to not attend any production that I feel charges too much.Chicago has plenty of good inexpensive theater.

Frankly if the big boys boost ticket prices that will only benefit the smaller companies who might gain some business chased away by the higher prices.Posted by: Bankerdanny | Jul 23, 2009 2:39:24 PMTheatres aren't greedy.

It's simple supply and demand.

I see no problem raising prices with a hit show during an extension.

After all, it's a business.

Why shouldn't a theatre benefit from a job well done? As far as students and seniors, I think these two groups are damn fortunate that these discounts still exist at all.

Things are tough all over.

Why should they get a break while the rest of us pay full price?Posted by: Garrett | Jul 23, 2009 2:41:07 PMI was lucky enough to see Our Town in the basement of the Chopin for $15.

When it moved Off-Broadway, should the ticket price have stayed the same? No, of course not.

The idea is ridiculous.

What Victory Gardens and others are doing isn't much different.

The risky-new-show vs.

guaranteed-good-time argument is sound.

Also, to reinforce something Chris wrote, no one's getting rich off of this (ok, maybe Cavalia).

Victory Gardens isn't raising prices to make money.

They're doing it to make more theater.Posted by: Martin | Jul 23, 2009 2:43:30 PMThank you for bringing up the issue of fees.

A night at the theater is supposed to be an escape from our own lives.

If I wanted to be shaken down for a series of unavoidable, non-negotiable fees above and beyond the "price" that was initially presented to me, I could stay home and read my phone bill.

Let's just put a bottom-line price on the ticket, shall we? I, as a patron, didn't come to the theater to think about things like transaction costs, facility charges and entertainment taxes.Posted by: Mike Richardson | Jul 23, 2009 2:45:50 PMLike the oil companies, they can charge whatever they want.

I don't think it's unfair to charge for premium times, just as airlines charge more for holiday flights.

You are correct that the producers run the risk of being greedy, but that will reflect in their ticket sales.However, the booking fees for Cavalia need to be examined.

I still have to go to the box office and pick up the ticket -- what convenience did I get? Most my friends are staying away because it's too expensive.

HEAR THAT, CAVALIA?Posted by: DD | Jul 23, 2009 2:46:34 PMWhat said, " They should let us in at whatever the play's production cost is."I hope he read PJL's post, because if non-profits set their ticket prices to recoup the entire expense of the production, the cost would be through the roof and very few people would be able to attend.I don't think it's unreasonable for theatres to up their prices when they find a hit on their hands, but I do think the student/senior discounts should remain in place.

By removing these, they are upping the prices for those segments of the audience at a larger rate than for others.

And get rid of those *@#$&^+ fees! I have more than once decided against buying tickets when the fees reached 1/3 - 1/2 of the actual cost of the ticket! Handling fees, and mailing fees, and "convenience" fees -- it's really getting out of hand.

I've got no problem paying for them to send me the tickets (though anything more than one or two dollars is really too much), but to charge fees to people who come to the box office is ridiculous.Posted by: jlp | Jul 23, 2009 3:14:31 PMThis has happened with "The History Boys" production at Timeline as well.

The Wall Street Journal review, prominently featured on the theater website, mentions that it's a bargain at $25.

But of course now it's $32.

I think it's perfectly reasonable.

Theaters badly need people to come in and take a chance on their new shows and price their new shows accordingly.

People who are willing to take that chance get a better deal than those who wait until something's been designated as a hit.

Only fair.

Posted by: Ann | Jul 23, 2009 3:16:41 PMThe fees, booking fees whatever you want to call they have gotten completly out of hand.

Cavalla is the latest and one of the worst examples.

As for the theatre companies raising prices on a hit, what, are they going to raise prices on a flop? I saw Grease in the early '70 for $5.00 I paid more for the movie (which was awful) but I can't blame them.This is an obvious non story, except for the fees stuff which should hqve been the focus.

Posted by: quercus | Jul 23, 2009 3:29:36 PMTransparency: I work for Lookingglass.I'd like to point out to Vinny that "greed" has nothing to do with this situation.

I can't speak for Cavalia, but in the case of Victory Gardens, Lookingglass and Profiles, we are nonprofit theatres.

For us, it boils down to a love of the art, and a desire to share it with the public as an institution.

An institution which must be fiscally sound for the long-term.In an uncertain economy, nonprofit arts organizations (not just theatres) are relying more on earned revenue and less and contributed income.

Though many individual, corporate and foundation supporters have stepped up to help offset shortfalls in other revenue streams, the net is a decrease.

The result? Either nonprofits find a way to balance their budget, or they disappear (as countless have done in the last two years).The economic downturn has forced nonprofit theatres to function more like commercial theatres, which means developing mature, dynamic pricing structures.

This 'kind of behavior' that Vinny references is simply practicing good business, and it's about time.

Economics 101 all the way to the latest articles about pricing published by the Harvard Business Review confirms the model of demand pricing.

Airlines have done it, hotels have done it, commercial theatres have done it, and finally nonprofits must do it to survive.

To quote a friend: "It's called 'Showbusiness,' not 'Showfriendship.'"For years we have trained theatre audiences to expect low prices by offering rush tickets and programs like Hot Tix or TKTS.

While these help theatres fill houses for less-popular shows, they also corrode the perceived value of the performing arts.

High-quality, well-acted, well-designed, engaging productions in safe, clean theatres do not cost half of what we charge for tickets.

It costs theatres twice as much to produce as the revenue we earn from ticket sales, which is why we rely on donations to balance our budget.

At Lookingglass, part of our institutional mission is to make theatre accessible.

We have maintained our student discount program and Target continues to sponsor a 2-for-1 ticket program for Saturday matinee performances.

While we've raised our top ticket price, we've also lowered the bottom ticket price, making our plays even more accessible to those who might not otherwise be able to afford tickets.If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to Lookingglass or any of the nonprofit theatres in Chicago, it will not only help us balance our budget and keep ticket prices reasonable in the future, but also help us survive.Posted by: Erik | Jul 23, 2009 3:34:48 PMDemanding more for a hit is understandable, but the fees the are added on to ticket purchases are usury.

Even group purchases for The Addams Family have handling charges of up to $8 per ticket.

According to the Broadway in Chicago Group Sales, these extra charges are from the Chicago based production group Elephant Eye Productions.

An email to the production company complaining about this practice was ignored.

It makes ticket sales seem like a bait and switch operation.

As a frequent theater goer and group ticket purchaser, Elephant Eye has earned a black eye in my rating system.Posted by: Maura Junius | Jul 23, 2009 4:49:45 PMSilly capitalistic ways...

The bottom line is they can charge whatever they like, whenever they like.

Demand-based pricing has been implemented (quietly) at most premium downtown shows for quite a while.

The idea from the producers perspective is to dip into the profits of the brokers (who do the same thing most commenters are protesting, no?) and frankly it seems more just that the money should go to the parties presenting the production and not some random third-party operating in a basement somewhere.Check out You want 4th row Jersey Boys tix this Saturday? Great, but it's going to cost you.

Want to pay $30 but don't mind when you go or where you sit, there's a mechanism for you as well.

This is neither complicated nor cause for alarm.

Posted by: FTG | Jul 23, 2009 8:02:38 PMChris: Thanks for doing an article on ticket prices- who does that anymore?I would agree with your conclusion that VG should have kept their student/senior ticket prices for the extension.

I am a college student and I went to see 'Blackbird' on the 12th of July and it was, like you said, a SERIOUS financial commitment, which I do not regret, in the least..In fact, I would pay the extra $10 to see Billy, but in all honesty, had his name NOT been attached, I'd have never given 'Blackbird' a second look...I think VG has every right to raise prices, particularly if Billy's name is attached.

They're allowed to make money just like anyone else, which is something I think you'd agree with.Thanks for your opinion :)Posted by: Amberle | Jul 23, 2009 8:03:19 PMMore comments:� Next � Post a comment Comments are not posted immediately.

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