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Right way to Innovate

March 4, 2015

Another juke-box musical opens in the West End, with the professional reviewers proclaiming the star to be a hit, but the show itself typical of the genre. Meanwhile, two decent original musicals will fold in the next few weeks and one will be replaced by a revival of a classic.

At £67.50 or more, it’s really no wonder audiences won’t risk their cash on a new show. Doesn’t matter how excruciating the revival may be (still recovering from “Miss Saigon” last week), it’s a safer bet for sure.

Just as in theatre, though, sometimes taking an innovation in life can be fun. I’ve spoken long and often about how I dislike Kindles – yet the Kindle app is the one I use most on my tablet now. Admittedly, I have to. They not only wrecked my local library service so I can’t get new books easily any more, but also some of what I read isn’t in printed format. But that’s another story.

Also another story; when did a stunningly pretty girl last give you a delighted giggle and round of applause as you purchased a Big Mac from her? Do shop assistants abandon their customers to come to your till to tell you that you are “awesome?” Are you engaged in conversation every time you shop, by staff wanting to know all about you? Can you amaze and confuse London Underground staff with your Jedi skills, opening a tube gate with no visible Oyster card?

Since last autumn, all this has happened to me in everyday life, and I now know what celebrities are dealing with. It’s fun at first, but now, well, honestly, I really do just want to pay for my shopping and be on my way without comment. Still, the attention persists.

Why? I’ve been using (and am now addicted to) the “Payband.” A black rubber bracelet containing the same “contactless payment” chip as a credit card. No fumbling in pockets, just touch your wristband (works even through thin pullover and coat sleeves) to the card reader in shop or at tube gate. Sorted. Or would be, if everybody didn’t stop you to demand where they could get one (not available any more, sadly, as the trial ends in May).

My point is this, though. The system is free, improves my life (rare that technology does) and in using it I’m helping develop the future of payments – just as I did when I took part in the prototype Oyster Card trials over 20 years ago.

If theatre wants innovation, it has to deliver something that early-adopters can latch onto at little cost and high benefit to themselves, and which makes life better for them to an extent that they tell everybody else.

That’s what cheap preview performances are for, for a start… and why I booked seats for “The Mentalists” (at Wyndham’s Theatre from July) without hesitation when news of their bargain £9.50 preview tickets leaked out.

Innovations which delight get attention (as my simple arm accessory proves), and theatre may do well to remember that. Fun, promotion and profit go together, so let’s have more of it in the industry which invented and relies on the first two for exactly that result.

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