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Forget About The Price Tag

May 11, 2011

Last Christmas break I happened to stagger downstairs according to my usual – and previously discussed – morning routine (isn’t it funny that when you can sleep late, your body clock won’t let you… until the day you can’t sleep late any longer?). Having digested the news of the day along with toast and a banana (insert your own monkey joke here, I don’t have time this afternoon, sorry) I was idly flicking channels and caught the end of a music show profiling the sparky Jessie J and her song.

Instantly catchy, I loved her message that she was forgetting about the price tag, just wanted to make the world dance. Artists like her, and the thousands who perform every day in the West End and venues around the country, are indeed an inspiration for everybody to express themselves more creatively than by giving local walls / parks / senior citizens a crude and anti-social makeover.

The trouble is, we can’t forget about the money, money, money or even the ker’ching, ker’ching ker’ching while (as Debbie Allen remarked), “Fame Costs.” For us, it is at the box office that we are paying…

Today, the highly respected theatre writer and broadcaster Mark Shenton of “The Stage” and “Sunday Express” newspaper picked up on something I noticed while compiling listings for “Ghost The Musical” – shortly taking up residence at the Piccadilly Theatre.

He blogs it here:

and simply concludes that those who have caught the theatregoing habit are in grave danger of being shut out by high prices. Sue Hayward of offers some handy hints on such matters, as does Anna Powell of but Mr Shenton’s warning is of a seriously worrying and almost uncombatable trend.

Oddly, today’s blog was going to expound a bit on the point I was making last week about how the ‘you too can have a go’ feeling has to be kept alive in order to retain interest in TV talent shows and the performing arts in general. My original blog idea for this week was going to say that I had neglected the other side of the coin – the sheer cost of mounting a production is now a bar to newcomers wanting to have a go at theatre for themselves.

A West End musical usually comes in at between £3 million and £10 million (admittedly with a goodly chunk going on marketing, though flying dragons and witches don’t come cheap either). On the fringe, I’ve noticed more and more companies having to combine to raise the £50,000 or so minimum they need for even two actors and a dog (even if one of the actors supplies their own hound) in a dank room above a pub for three weeks over the summer when the audience would rather be somewhere cooler – either air conditioned or Edinburgh.

Amateur groups have it even harder. They often pick musicals that they can easily sell to Auntie Agnes and her pals from the Bingo’n’Bowling Club set. Trouble is, they all saw that ‘nice Connie person’ in “The Sound Of Music” at the Palladium a few years back… and now expect at least a UFO mountain and three piece mansion sliding around on the church hall’s stage. So, quite honestly, does Dafydd Ap Llewellyn, mad producer / director of the “Much Stooging In The Marshes Am Dram Company.” He should know better, but also knows audiences have high expectations.

Set, costume and venue hire add to the cost – and, when you can’t charge anything like West End prices for your tickets, balancing the books is nearly impossible unless you can find it in your heart and local community to stage “The Burger King And I” as sponsored by your local take away restaurant.

So, sadly, it is the price tag after all. Whether it’s the cost of going to a show that might trigger a life long and life enhancing (for both the viewer and those who work in the industry and depend on an audience to eat) interest, or taking part at any level. It was ever thus in the arts world, but once again – as Mr Shenton remarks, and I endorse -there is a fine line between investors taking a return and ending up spreading Golden eggshell all over the industry.

  1. BarryL permalink
    May 17, 2011 3:51 pm

    Its not just premium Seats that are a rip off
    Lets add
    0845/0844 box office numbers that can add £££s to just trying to buy tickets
    Restoration Levy – surely a comfortable environment is part of the Ticket, not extra!
    Online booking surcharge- we do all the work and get charged for it.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      May 18, 2011 9:25 am

      Totally agree about premium box office numbers. What really annoyed me was that as soon as 0870 and 0845 numbers were included in calling plans, they all changed to 0844 ones, which are not…

      Restoration fees you have to be careful about. They are only shown separately for legal reasons – and some theatres incorporate them into the ticket price so you don’t notice. It isn’t a profit maker as such, as the cash goes to a trust to keep the theatre going, but it is an involuntary tax indeed – even if it is for a good cause.

      Online fees: hate all booking fees. Theatres do pay, though, for the rental of the booking systems they use and again we are conscious of the fees because they are shown separately. If they were included, we may not notice. The fee I hate most is the one where you pay to PRINT YOUR OWN TICKET, ON YOUR OWN MACHINE!!!! Now that is cheeky!!!!!

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