Sunday, July 29, 2012

Price Politics

It's again the time of the year to ponder about the upcoming musical season, and to buy the tickets yet unbought!
It's also the time to get angry about the prices, and to openly weep after spending an unthinkable amount of money on the tickets anyway.

I know seeing theatre in Finland is cheap compared to West End, let alone Broadway. We don't have to pay hundreds for a good ticket. But still - for a system that, thanks to public funding, doesn't have to cover all expenses with the ticket profit - there are some weird things going on.
I suppose theatres should do their best to get us hooked young. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe a person who learns to enjoy theatre at a young age will keep visiting later in their life, instead of thinking theatre's a waste of time only elitists enjoy. However, no student is made of money, and theatre is never as cheap as pretty much any other activity out there. So I suppose keeping the student prices affordable would be a good idea. We fall in love with the genre now and will return to pay the full price a couple of years later.
Sadly, it's not always as simple as that. Student discounts, while they exist, are usually very small. And then there are the theatres that seem to specify in frightening young people away...

Helsingin kaupunginteatteri annoys me the most. According to their logic, people such as students and pensioners simply don't exist from October to December, and for the most of the year, they stop existing on weekends.
HKT has a pricing system where certain months are more expensive than others. Ironically, during the most expensive months, the theatre doesn't offer students the usual 6€ discount (let alone the incredible 2€ discount for pensioners, for that matter). During the most of the time, the discounts only exist during weeks, at weekends everyone has to pay the same price.
HKT, here's the thing: maybe it's surprising, but students also have things to do during the week, just like everyone else. Going to school, for example. So most of us would rather see theatre on the weekend. I think a pricing system like this has some nasty implications. Of course, it may be debated if anyone who really wants to see some play changes their mind because they can't get that 6€ off, but it still sends a message: students are second-grade theatregoers who can be used to fill the empty seats on the days no one else wants to see shows.

Similar attitude lurks in other theatres, too. In Åbo Svenska Teater's Hair, students can get whole four euros off from the best and tolerable seats - and then 11€ off when it comes to the rickety stools where you can see about half of the stage. Sounds fair? It'd be, if they also warned the first-time visitors that they won't be getting a good view. As is, I haven't managed to find any warning on their website. Even though weirdly cheap price is usually an indicator of something being off, I think it's always nice to say that out loud too.
Svenska Teatern with their Kristina från Duvemåla is a lot worse, though. The prices are sheer robbery: the cheapest ticket for the remaining 2012 season costs 45€ for a student. People have complained that you can hardly see the stage from those. Svenska Teatern doesn't like making that fact very clear either, but luckily they'll change the system a bit for 2013: the worst seats will be considerably cheaper. Too bad the most expensive tickets, which compose the biggest part of the auditorium and cost 65€ for students these days, will get more expensive. In theory, I guess if people are willing to pay - and they seem to be, since the show's sold out for months in advance -  you can ask for as much money as you want. But I don't know if asking over 70€ per seat where you can actually see is the best way of making young people interested in your show. I love Kristina to bits (more about that later) but I'll have to think about seeing it multiple times pretty carefully.

RENT at Alexander Theatre also peeves me. Even though RENT is partially starting to morph into a nostalgia trip for people who were teenagers when it first premiered in the 90's, it's still not exactly for senior citizens. So, I was rather surprised to see there's no student discount available, that the tickets cost from 43 to 48€, and that apparently only the more expensive ones can be bought via internet.
Compare to Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble's RENT from 2011: 16€/student. Compare to Aladdin, the other musical premiering in Alexander Theatre this fall: 25€/student. When you remember Aladdin is the Disney one that has a flying carpet, and RENT is the one about poor artists where traditional set design consists of a table and a string of light bulbs... I can't, of course, know the reasons behind the pricing of RENT's tickets (who knows if the production will be filled with pyrotechnics?), but I feel very discouraged to see it for such a bloated price. It's hard to imagine RENT as a theatre event for middle-aged people to sip at their glasses of champagne - but since there's zero effort towards making it affordable for young people, I suppose that's what they're aiming for.

When will we see the first Finnish theatre following in the footsteps of the National Opera and offering students tickets that cost 50% of the normal price?

Other ideas (theatres, feel free to steal): 
Det Ny Teater (Copenhagen) style: discounts for everybody under 25 years old - a student or not.
Ryanair style booking system: book early, pay less.
Last minute discount: big discount if you buy a ticket for a show on the same day. 
Car wash style: get every 6th play for free.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Let the Spectacle Astound You

I've been meaning to write about this show ever since I started this blog. However, each time I try, it turns out I have nothing to say. 

Let me break this summer hiatus by trying once more.

The overture to The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favourite theatre experiences.

It's neat enough when you listen to it from a cast recording, but - as is the case with all great theatre moments - nothing can compare to seeing it live. To sit there in the theatre, when the chandelier rises, when the music blasts and you feel the notes going through your body... I get excited just thinking about it. It's like a promise: you'll see a great show tonight!

I've been to London (after falling in love with musical theatre) without seeing Phantom only once. It's a staple like Les Mis: I don't have to ponder about getting tickets at all. I go to see it, marvel the huge scale of the production... and leave without having gained much anything at all, beyond some delicious eye and ear candy.

I keep returning to Phantom because I remember seeing it for the first time. I was amazed. I had never seen a show as big, a show as beautiful. It still ranks there as one of the most visually gorgeous shows I've ever seen. I see it for my favourite moments: the Overture, the dropping of the chandelier, the intense Final Lair scene...

I don't see Phantom to get any food for thought. I don't see it for the performances, either. While I'm sure I could tell an awful Phantom from a good one, ranking the good ones I've seen is something else. Last summer, I saw John Owen-Jones, the man many Phantom fans praise as the best Phantom ever. I can't really remember what, if anything, made his performance different from the others I've seen.

There are the couple of musicals that seem to be less about the performances and art, and more about the show, or phenomenom, itself. Shows like Les Mis, Wicked and Phantom - I feel they, in their West End forms, are quite centered around their reputation as the world's favourite musicals.

Entering a theatre in Finland is entering a theatre. Entering a theatre in West End, then? When it comes to the type of shows I mentioned, I feel it's like visiting Disneyland. The place is crowded with travellers and complete with souvenir stands, ice cream and people in costumes. Cameras flash during the intermissions, lines to meet and greet with the stars are formed after the show.

Many of the most popular productions in London hardly feel like pieces of theatre to me anymore. They feel like tourist attractions, every single detail perfected - every single detail always similar. I suppose, when you change casts for 26 years in a row, everything has to be fixed so you can change one person without everything falling apart. And I suppose some of the tiniest movements the original cast happened to come up with 26 years ago are indeed still intact.

In short: visiting Her Majesty's for Phantom from year to year, the tourists sitting next to me change, the actors change. The experience stays the same.

That is why I find it so hard to review Phantom.

I feel it's pointless to talk about the piece itself. I'm sure everyone has seen it, every opinion out there has been expressed already. I like the show well enough, but I'm not into it enough to notice the tiny differences in between performances, so deeper analysis is ruled out.

I just keep seeing the show to enjoy the spectacle, to rest my eyes on the glitter and glamour for two hours and a half.

Photo from Phantom of the Opera's photo gallery.