Friday, March 6, 2009

Chris Jones doesn't know what he's talking about.

Tribune theatre critic Chris Jones makes the point in the Trib today that companies facing hard times in this economy should NOT cut back on production but rather ignore bleeding ledgers and continue to produce.  Plucky idea but about as feasible as alchemy.

Jones suggests that local theatres in trouble follow the example of Hollywood, which is currently booming, and continue to mount shows but charge less for them.   Okay.... any number of simple errors of logic here.  First of all the movie bidness is predicated on volume of ticket sales which creates economies of scale in distribution that no theatre on earth can match.  The number of asses a theatre can put in seats  is severely limited as is the number of times a show can be performed in a given run whereas movie googleplexes spread all across the country have huge  capacity  for asses and can have multiple showings in a day without increasing their overhead exponentially .    It goes without saying obviously  this isn't a model theatre can compete with no matter how  cheap a ticket gets.

Which gets to Jones' next error of cognition.  At current rates ticket sales do not cover theatre operating expenses.  Surely the man knows  this.  Somehow though Jones thinks lowering those prices would cover that margin or help retire current debt?   Think of it like this:

Lets say you  own a small business that is in the red because your per unit pricing loses you money.  Your sales don't cover your production costs.  Would it then make sense to lower your prices and hope volume covers your margin??   Only if you could substantially lower your costs which theatres are not well positioned to do.  They can't rip up Equity contracts or skip out on royalty fees or substantially lower their rent in most cases.  Fixed overhead is pretty much exactly that.  One begins to see why the man writes for a living instead of producing theatre.

I know this aint so cheery but  the fact is that non-profit theatre is aptly named and is not meant to be, nor in fact able to be as fiscally nimble as businesses are.   You can cut ticket prices to the bone and beyond but if  grants and other outside funding sources dry up as they have in an environment that has seen the Dow lose almost 50% of its value in 3 months then things aint good. You live by  the grant and you die by the grant.  Debting your way out of debt really only works if you have the keys  to  the Treasury Dept.   

Fact is not everyone is going to make it and there  isn't a lot that can prevent that from happening.  

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