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A Crazy Trade

October 12, 2011

A message posted on the Whatsonstage.com discussion board caught my attention yesterday. The poster (whose existence is known to me) was talking about a performance of “Crazy For You” that she attended.

As it happens, I was there the same night, and for the same reason.

Besides the ‘press night’ – when reviewers from the newspapers and other media are invited to give their opinions – many productions in the West End also have what are known as “Trade Nights.” It was one of these that she spoke of.

“Trade Nights” are when those involved in the industry, either directly as sellers of tickets or as individuals who regularly take large groups to the theatre, are invited to see a show.

They all run pretty much the same way: you get an email offering you tickets, to which you reply quickly to make sure you have a place on the list. On the night, you wait outside the theatre for somebody carrying a clipboard with your benefactor company’s name on it. An envelope is discreetly handed over, your name checked off, and you take your (generally rather good) seats for the show.

What the Whatsonstage poster noted is that this system has a single issue… you get a “professional” audience who know how to behave. By that, she meant they “laughed in the right places” and thus may have distorted the atmosphere.

That got me thinking.

The advantage of a “Trade Night” is that those around you DO know how to behave, every time. Many are conscious that they are ‘representing their company’ and that misbehaviour will be reported. Thus your fellow audience members for rows around (Trade seats are usually in blocks) are attentive and don’t disturb those around them – so it’s far easier to concentrate than when a noisy pair of friends are chatting behind you throughout the show (you know who you are and when)…

What they also are, and this I agree with, is cynical. We all see a lot of theatre due to our work and, like professional press reviewers, it takes more to impress us. We are also a less demonstrative bunch – so yes, the actors won’t get the standing ovation often – though anything else they earn, from laughs to gasps, are worth far more as they are harder won.

The other problem is the distortion of our views. I raved about “Shrek: The Musical” but, as a Theatremonkey.com reader (who works in the industry and was wondering whether to buy seats for the family at £65 a go wondered), would I have loved the show as much if I’d shelled out £130 on a pair of tickets? The answer would be “yes,” but it made me think. That’s a heck of a lot of cash, and no wonder prices are rising if much of the world who set them aren’t actually paying them…

The theatre industry is tiny and impenetrable, and also a magic place to be. It’s important that the magic is spread as widely as possible and, rather like our present Toffy, sorry, Tory, government, we should always remember that it is the widest possible view from the ordinary tax paying and ticket buying person that ultimately keeps us in business.

Oh, and by the way, “Crazy For You” IS worth the price of a ticket – and has made the move indoors very successfully indeed. It’s terrific, go see.

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