Friday, February 26, 2010

iPhone and Blackberry Ticket Buying - Emerging Technologies

Theatres and concert halls pay huge fees to credit card processors and banks.

Many theatres and concert halls sell tickets online but only from PC's and laptops. The technology has not yet enabled mobile devices like iPhones, Blackberries and other smart phones to be incorporated into most small and mid sized operations ticketing operations. But it is coming. The biggest problem is handling the payments.

Our evolving internet world is working on payment systems that avoid the need for credit cards. Imagine, just person to person or person to business transfers activated on cell phones and other portable devices, and verified at the businesses themselves.

Merging social networking and payments between friends, businesses.

Not only cultural organizations, but the public itself would love to be able to cut out the middle man. Imagine holding on to that pound of flesh extracted by the rapacious banks and credit card companies which charge both buyer and seller unconscionable fees to transfer money around.

Ask the treasurer of any 501 (c) 3. The fees extracted by banks and credit card companies is excessive, and often passed along to consumers with through the dreaded "handling charges" for online and transactions over voice phone lines. (The iPhone and other mobile devices are not yet in the mix.)

And those processing fees can add up. For a smaller company with low ticket prices, this can amount to 10% of the cost of the ticket. When I was at the Boston Ballet, credit card processing fees amounted to $200,000 for The Nutcracker alone. And that was 30 years ago.

The new services are being spearheaded - believe it or not - at Twitter, which is where the young code warriors mostly gather. Twitpay is up to 15,000 users who link their Twitter account to Paypal. Paypal does the money moving, person to person.

Twitpay is actually up and running with 15,000 users so far.

]ack Dorsey created an app that accepts payments with an iPhone. Obopay is another service that enables mobile devices, but it seems more traditional in its link to MasterCard and major banks.

Wired magazine has a good baseline article on it:

"Last summer, PayPal began giving a small group of developers access to its code, allowing them to work with its super-sophisticated transaction framework. Michael Ivey immediately used it to link users’ Twitter accounts to their PayPal accounts, and his new company, Twitpay, took off. " - Wired

The eggheads at the Atlantic Monthly see these fledgeling attempts to use mobile devices to move money around as the beginning of a wave that might well crest into a movement to cut the expensive credit card companies out of the equation.

Nothing could make me happier.

With new technology it may be possible to retain almost all the proceeds of electronic payments.

Writing in The Futurist, Thomas Frey calls it a "fractal payment." Frey says that, instead of routing money through an expensive and slow banking system, you could simply use your phone or other wireless device to transmit the payment directly to the seller's wireless device. He says the reason it would circumvent the banking system is by allowing the user to automatically divide up the payment between the necessary recipients.

"For example, when you buy a book from, your payment is instantly divided four ways in a split between the author, the publisher, Amazon, and the shipping company." - Thomas Frey, The Futurist

Yet it is not that clean and separate from the traditional methods. Even Paypal now charges almost 3% on transfers designated as payments for goods or services.

Naysayers abound. The Awl's Choire Sicha isn't buying it. Sicha sees Twitpay as nothing more than Paypal for cellphones, which isn't so different from a credit card. And tools that allow you to use your iPhone like a credit card reader still require you to go through the credit card system.

Paypal is an innovator and already set up for mobile transactions without credit cards, using my account balance, like a debit card. I lived through the birth of Paypal - and the efforts of the establishment banking industry to undermine and destroy them.

(Long ago, between gigs, I became an eBay Power Seller three times over.) Paypal not only evolved, but prospered. They had huge issues in their early days, but solved them and currently are used by over 150 Million people and 100,000 merchants. Frankly, I do not understand why more cultural organizations don't take advantage of this low cost alternative to traditional credit card processing arrangements.

Making phone and texting devices compatible with ticket buying is essential.

To me, the main thing is that lots of people are thinking about the problem of our dependence on a banking and credit card system that is out to fleece the public. And ways around it. It's great to have people working on solutions that we can all benefit from.

Everyone needs to keep their costs down, and millions still can be made a few cents at a time. It is the million dollar salaries and bonuses to greedy executives who add no value to transactions that have caused the money industry to become fat, lazy and irresponsible.

The moment a logical alternative emerges, the pent up demand for an alternative to the current credit card stranglehold will cause millions to give up their plastic and return the economy to one in which people earn money by creating value, not by fiat and monopoly.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Please turn off your cellphones..."

It all started in 1999 when Brian Dennehy, performing in Death of a Salesman couldn't bear the chirping phone. "Please, just answer it," he pleaded. And it has gotten progressively worse. You would think that people might have learned to turn them off upon reaching the theatre. Without reminders.

A Faraday Cage under construction which prevents unwanted electo-magnetic signals and lightning from interfering with a theatre's electronics equipment. Oh, and it blocks cellphone signals, too.

But despite having paid $50 or more for a ticket, no more than halfway through the first half comes a ring of a cellphone, or the glow and tapping of a texter a few seats from you. What to do.

Just about every theatre makes a pre-show announcement, which like pre-takeoff instructions from the stewardness are pretty roundly ignored. Fortunately here in the Berkshires, we have considerate audiences so that this is not a common problem. But it does happen. So what to do. In cinemas, this particular filmed announcement has been know to make its point with humor:

So what can be done, you ask? Some patrons have taken to buying cellphone jammers which run on batteries and will pretty quickly foul up incoming signals for up to 200'. Jammers are illegal, but blockers are not.

The simplest (and legal) one is called a Faraday cage, which is simply a copper mesh cage around the auditorium. Its primary purpose is lightning protection or to prevent unwanted electrical impulses from impeding a hospital's MRI equipment.

While there are some FCC regulations about jamming signals, if it is the design of the building itself which blocks, but does not jam signals, it is allowed. It has been rumored for some time that some Broadway theatres have retrofitted them. A friend at IATSE tells me the justification is based on the complex electronics used to run many high tech performances today, especially those that use radio control frequencies to manage stage effects. There had also been problems with unwanted outside crosstalk being picked up by wireless remote microphones.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association — a Washington-based cell phone lobby that is also known as CTIA-the Wireless Association — said it would fight any move to block cell phone signals. But the person who spends money on tickets for a show has rights to the peaceful enjoyment of their purchase too. It is a good foundation for a defense against the selfish short-sighted businesses that profit from their products disrupting our activities.

Of course, I would post a notice prominently that stated that the theatre does not have good cell phone reception due to the building's design to cover any legal issues.

The ticket buyer could then make an informed decision about which was more important, spending a couple of hours immersed in a great show, or opting out so they are able to take every inane call that comes their way. They can not be allowed to have it both ways.

The cellphone trade group is, of course, completely against forcing people to stop using their cellphones, but the audience has a right to enjoy the show, too.

Friday, February 19, 2010

TicketMaster sent customers to rapacious scalpers FTC says

"The Boss" was not very happy to see his fans screwed.

How do scalpers get away with not only roasting the public on ticket prices, but also selling tickets that they don't even have? Easy, cut a deal with TicketMaster.

Never content to just make an honest buck, TicketMaster, once an honest ticket selling operation, seems to be on a never ending quest to extract money from the public looking for a little entertainment. Take their selling of tickets for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band last May and June.

According to the FTC, "Ticketmaster displayed a No Tickets Found message on its Web page to consumers to indicate that no tickets were available at that moment to fulfill their request." The FTC charged that Ticketmaster used this Web page to steer unknowing consumers to TicketsNow, where tickets were offered at much higher prices – in some cases double, triple, or quadruple the face value.

The FTC found that "Ticketmaster displayed the same misleading Web page to consumers looking to buy tickets for many other events." This time not only were they caught doing it, they are being held responsible by an FTC no longer held down by those who talk "free trade" while they mean "rape and pillage."

A popular T-shirt at arenas everywhere.

“Buying tickets should not be a game of chance,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “Ticketmaster’s refrain is that it sold through TicketsNow to give consumers more choices. But when you steer consumers to your resale Web sites without clear disclosures, and they unknowingly buy tickets at higher prices, they’ll be left with a sour note.”

Compounding this deception, Ticketmaster failed to tell buyers that many of the resale tickets advertised on were not “in hand” – in other words, they were not actual tickets secured for sale at the time they were listed and bought. In fact, some tickets were being sold speculatively – that is, they were merely offers to try to find tickets.

In fact, many consumers hoping to go to a Springsteen concert at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC in May 2009 paid for tickets in February that never materialized. Ticketmaster kept the sales proceeds for more than three months without a reasonable basis for believing it could fulfill the orders, the FTC complaint alleged.

Another sore point is the practice of not refunding the service charge when shows get cancelled. This has been the subject on consumer litigation in the past.

“ sold phantom tickets without letting consumers know that the tickets did not exist. Then, the company held onto consumers’ money, sometimes for months, when it knew those fans weren’t going to see Springsteen,” Leibowitz said. “Clearly consumers deserve better. They deserve to know what they’re buying, including the risk that their tickets won’t materialize.”

The complaint against Ticketmaster Entertainment L.L.C. and, Inc. also names Ticketmaster L.L.C., a subsidiary of Ticketmaster Entertainment L.L.C., and TNOW Entertainment Group, Inc., a holding company for The Commission vote to authorize the staff to file the complaint and stipulated final order was 4-0. The FTC filed its complaint and stipulated final order in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

Scalping Executives? Live Nation President and CEO Michael Rapino, left, and Ticketmaster Entertainment CEO Irving Azoff are sworn in before testifying to a U.S. Senate committee in February. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


On another front, the U.S. Department of Justice has approved the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, possibly the worst thing that could be done for consumers. In approving the companies' merger, Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney said it would have the effect of lowering ticket prices.

Yeah, right. Just a little whipped cream on top of a shit sandwich for ticket buyers.

Oh, they did impose some restrictions. Like a 10-year court order prohibiting it from retaliating against venues that choose to sign ticket-selling contracts with competitors.

TicketMaster does things Godfather-style. Sign with us or things will not go well. Imagine a court order forbidding them from retaliating against competition. Before they even do it. That judge knew their reputation for near-illegal business practices.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WalMart to enter ticket selling business with Ticketmaster

Ticketmaster to sell tickets at Wal-Mart, but will the service charges come down? Don't count on it.

News leaked out that "Walmart and Ticketmaster have entered into an agreement for selling event access in Walmart stores in select markets,” according to Irving Azoff at the NBA Technology Summit in Dallas late last week. Walmart shoppers will be able to buy tickets to concerts, sports and other community events at around 500 stores in the coming months. There are more than 7,000 WalMart stores and superstores, not counting Sam's Clubs.

However, just how much they will save at the big retailer is in question. Most likely nothing. The outrageous service charges extracted from ticket buyers is unlikely to change, as the monopolistic Ticketmaster and WalMart become a cartel, and will maintain uniform pricing across its phone and retail operations. And talk about opportunities to grab the best seats by the underpaid associates for their friends. I bet it will help WalMart find more low paid help who in turn could make money on the side selling to scalpers.

WalMart is only committing 500 stores initially, most likely as a test, since Ticketmaster, with one fell swoop, could have outlets in all its stores if wanted. This may be the first product sold by WalMart that is not discounted. And you will have the pleasure of having to go to the store's electronics department and have one of their "associates" pull up and print out the tickets.

The impact on the Berkshires will be minimal since most local venues handle their own ticketing operations, mindful of the effect that service charges have on attendance. The tickets will be available at WalMart's in large cities first, Chicago and Los Angeles for example. Azoff has worked with WalMart before, specifically in pushing the Eagles' Long Road Out of Eden in 2008. The album was a best seller that year.

I worked with TicketMaster in its early days, and was able to watch them grow into a powerhouse that bought out the once dominant TIcketron. They have managed to become the gorilla in the room of ticket selling.

On another front, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center recently announced that they will be creating their own ticket selling operation this coming season. However, I was greeted with total silence when trying to learn if that meant there would be a reduction in service charges. Right now it is looking for SPAC, as for WalMart, as a giant new profit center.

The change is likely necessitated by the destruction of most alternative retail by monoliths like WalMart. For years, TicketMaster relied on Tower Records as its main retail outlet. Since the demise of that chain, they have had less of a presence at street level. Clearly this is about to change, and while it might work for mass market events, I am not so sure it would do the high end arts organizations much good.

Having to visit WalMart for tickets to the BSO, or Jacob's Pillow just sounds like a trip to hell and back. If they had to do a discount chain, it should have been Target.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Valerie Harper Hits Broadway as Tallulah Bankhead

Valerie Harper as Tallulah Bankhead

It's time to get Looped, the production that has travelled from California to Washington, DC and is now ready for prime time. Valerie Harper has been perfecting her role as Tallulah Bankhead in Looped, directed by Rob Ruggiero. Brian Hutchison and Michael Mulheren also star. Best of all, we have serious discounts on the tickets.

From the Looped website (Link).

The first preview is February 19 with the official opening scheduled for March 14. Our ticket offer applies to all performances except opening night through April 5. Balcony seats are $25 and the $111.50 orchestra seats are priced at $66.50. At the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street.

Tallulah is Looped again.

The comedy by Matthew Lombardo is based on a real event. It takes place in the summer of 1965, when an inebriated Tallulah Bankhead stumbles into a sound studio to rerecord (or 'loop') one line of dialogue for her last movie --Die, Die, My Darling. Ms. Bankhead was known for her wild partying and convention-defying exploits that surpassed even today's celebrity bad girls.

Given her intoxicated state and inability to loop the line properly, what ensues is an uproarious showdown between an uptight film editor, Danny Miller, and the outrageous legend.

Valerie Harper offstage.

- The Washingtonian

Here's how to get your discount tickets and save over 40%. Call 212-947-8844 and mention code LPNYT23. Alternately, you can go to and enter the same code, LPNYT23.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Mikado and Royal Court to travel from Cohoes, NY to Pittsfield, MA

The Mikado is a sparkling and lavish comedic operetta written by Gilbert & Sullivan at the height of their creative genius. Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo and other charming and absurd characters will amuse and entertain both long time fans and first time explorers of this Victorian forerunner to musical comedies.

The Mikado tells a tale of preposterous carryings on in the mythical Japanese village of Titi-pu. A Japanese prince will do just about anything to win the hand of the national executioner's daughter, for she is his one true love. Over a century later, the themes of The Mikado still resonate with modern audiences with references used in films and television from "Chariots of Fire" to "The Chipmunks". The ultimate classic love story set in the most famous Savoy Opera continues to captivate audiences.

This is the Hill Country's own production, initially mounted in Cohoes, New York at their Victorian Music Hall by C-R Productions and then moved, cast, sets and orchestra to Pittsfield where Berkshire audiences can easily enjoy it. If this is half as good as their sell out production of The Producers last year which played the Colonial under similar arrangements, then we are all in for a real treat, especially if the company's legendary Jim Charles plays The Lord High Exectioner in full over-the-top costume.

Before there was Saturday Night Live, there was Gilbert and Sullivan spoofing the norms and conventions of the time, and drawing other countries and cultures in caricature. Considering the size of this production, the ticket prices are very reasonable.

Performance Schedule:


February 18-28
Thursday-Saturday at 8:00pm
Saturday and Sunday at 3:00pm
Tickets: $25-$35
Box Office: 518.237.5858


Saturday March 6, 2010
Performances at 3 PM and 8 PM
Tickets $25-$45
Box Office: (413) 997-4444

Shakespeare & Company: "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" and "Women of Will"

Josh Aaron McCabe and Alexandra Lincoln in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Photos by Kevin Sprague.

There's activity aplenty in South County as Shakespeare & Company lights its marquee for two events in February. Both are must-see performances.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

The first is the much anticipated Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Christopher Hampton and adapted from the novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos which opens this week. It is directed by Tina Packer and presented at the intimate Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre from through March 21, 2010.

Love is the ultimate weapon! This wickedly entertaining story of love, sex and betrayal is as sumptuously guilt-inducing as a decadent chocolate you just can't resist. Depicting the devious schemes of French aristocrats on the cusp of the Revolution.

Elizabeth Aspenlieder

Packer directs Elizabeth Aspenlieder, who won the coveted Elliot Norton Award for her tour de force performance in Bad Dates last winter, and Josh Aaron McCabe, most recently seen last fall as Sherlock Holmes (and a host of other characters, both male and female) in the runaway hit The Hound of the Baskervilles. Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) was ahead of its time as a novel in 1782 and it still may be ahead of its time today.

Women of Will

Tina Packer and Nigel Gore.

On February 28, in the Bernstein Theatre, there will be a sneak peek of Women of Will. A true tour de force of performance, discussion, and just a bit of crowd participation, this pla, written by Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer, and directed by Eric Tucker is the much-anticipated, masterful summation of Tina Packer's 40-odd years of deep investigation into all things Shakespeare. Performing with Packer is Nigel Gore.

After years of work, refinement, and workshop performances, Tina is making the world premiere of Women of Will at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, England this March. For one night only, our audience will get a sneak peek of this remarkable survey here in Lenox—before Tina takes it across the pond.

How did Shakespeare's view of women and the feminine impulse change throughout his career? And what can his 400-year-old insights teach us today about our own lives, as we each figure out for ourselves what it means to be alive?

My colleague Chales Giuliano does a nice advance take on Women of Will and its place in the Shakespeare & Company repertoire. Berkshire Fine Arts

For ticket and specific performance information, visit

Shakespeare & Company is located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, MA.
Box office: 413-637-3353
Main office: 413-637-1199

February at the Mahaiwe - Coming Attractions

The uplifting Cherish the Ladies takes the stage on February 27.

Ticket information:

Thursday, February 4 at 8pm
Mahaiwe Presents
A rairie Home Companion: Live in HD
Garrison Keillor's public radio program
$23 Adult/$21 Seniors/ $16 Children 12 and under

Friday, February 5 at 7pm
Greenagers Presents
The Gods Must be Crazy (film screening)

Saturday, February 6 at 1pm (SOLD OUT)
Mahaiwe Presents
Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD
Verdi's Simon Boccanegra
$23 Adults / $21 Seniors / $16 Children under 13

Saturday, February 6 at 10:45am
Mahaiwe Presents
Scott Eyerly Opera Lecture about Verdi's Simon Boccanegra
$10 General Admission

Sunday, February 7 at 3pm
Mahaiwe Presents
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Grammy Award-Winning South African Singing Group
$39 / $34 Members

Saturday, February 13 at 7pm (talk) and 8pm (movie)
Mahaiwe Presents
Valentine's Talk by Food Historian Francine Segan Aphrodisiacs: Myth or Reality
and Screening of Moonstruck (1987)
$5 Talk/ $6 Movie/$10 for Talk & Movie General Admission

Saturday, February 20 at 6pm
Close Encounters with Music Presents
A Night of Quartets (with Avalon String Quartet)
$35 / $10 Students with valid ID

Sunday, February 21, 7pm
Mahaiwe Presents
McCoy Tyner Trio
Legendary Jazz Pianist
$67 Golden Circle/ $47/ $42 Members

Saturday February 27 at 7pm
Mahaiwe Presents
Cherish the Ladies
All-Women Traditional Irish Band
$38 / $33 Members

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street. Great Barrington. MA 01230
Box Office: 413-528-0100
Note Box Office Hours:
Wednesday - Saturday: 12noon - 6pm
plus 3 hrs prior to all show times

February at the Colonial - Coming Attractions

This Romeo and Juliet is not your embalmed version, but set more recently, with stunning action and comedy sequences.


Mike Dugan’s Men Fake Foreplay
Sat 2/06/10 8pm

VIP: $65 preferred seating with post-show Artist meet & greet
A: $35 B: $25
“It was never about finding the right woman. It was about becoming the right man.” Men Fake Foreplay is a hilariously funny, yet pointed commentary on relationships and the battle of the sexes, written and performed by Emmy-winning writer and Tonight Show comedian Mike Dugan.

The Balcony Scene is as touching as ever.

Romeo & Juliet
Presented by The Acting Company and The Guthrie Theater

Fri 2/12/10 8pm
A: $45 B: $25
The Acting Company, the most respected and praised touring repertory theater in America, and the renowned Guthrie Theater proudly present Romeo & Juliet. It opened last month for a healthy run in Minneapolis, and is currently on a short 25 city tour. Pittsfield is among the lucky cities it will visit. This production presents another approach to Shakespeare. Young love has never been so delightful, or as dangerous, as in this stirring, full-length production. This production comes with our personal recommendation for its thoroughly contemporary reading of Shakespeare's classic lines. Though unchanged, this staging has an impact and is staged for twenty-somethings as well as lovers of the Bard.

Love Me Tender: The Ultimate Elvis Valentine Bash
Starring Mike Albert, Scot Bruce and the Big “E” Band
Fri 2/19/2010 at 8PM

A: $45 B: $25
Celebrate Valentine’s Day with the ultimate Elvis tribute show starring two of the world’s finest Elvis impressionists. Mike Albert is second to none in bringing to life the Elvis of the '70s, while Scot Bruce looks like, sounds like—and swings his hips like—Elvis in his younger days. Many hit songs made famous by the legendary entertainer are featured in the show, including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Burning Love,” “Love Me Tender,” “Jail House Rock” and more.

Corbian The Dinosaur: A Glow In The Dark Adventure
Sponsored by Greylock Federal Credit Union
Sat 2/27/10 3pm

All seats: $15
Truly unique and visually dazzling, Corbian is an innovative theatrical experience that sparks imagination and inspires creativity. Audiences will be awed as electroluminescent crayon-like creatures and characters light up the stage in this heart-rending tale of a dinosaur that discovers the true meaning of love.
Recommended for ages 7 and up

Tickets and information:
The Colonial Theatre
111 South Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
P: (413) 448-8084

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Cabaret" at the Colonial Theatre Gets the Basics Right

Oakley Boycott - an ascending Broadway star to watch.

The temperature barely rose above the zero mark this past Saturday, but inside the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, it was hot, even torrid, on stage as the famous musical, Cabaret, was brought to life once again. The famous Kander-Ebb work is evergreen, audiences never seem to tire of it. Though only in the Berkshires for the day, with a matinee and evening performance, this was no bare pipe production.

Windwood Productions, which specializes in what are called "bus and truck" shows threw up a wonderful set to recreate the Kit Kat Klub, and had a full complement of stage lighting and sound that made it feel that this was a show that was settling in for a long run. And they filled the Colonial stage with a cast of two dozen plus an eight piece band that moved on a platform from backstage to front at several points in the show.

As the Emcee, Zac Mordechai skipped the usual heavy makeup and went for a more naturalistic look and his performance was not as over the top as many I have seen. Perhaps more suitable for conservative rural audiences, but I think the lack of zing is one reason the matinee audience seemed to sit on its hands.

Oakley Boycott as Sally Bowles delivered a very workmanlike performance, finding the sweet spot between Sally's impulsive nature and her humanity. This was no spoiled brat, but rather a frightened young woman who sought the shelter of friends and lovers rather than independence. It seemed that she and the company hit their stride in Act Two, where we saw flashes of a real talent at work. Her rendition of the title song was very touching. Given more seasoning and a maturing of her vocal and movement skills, she's on her way to becoming a Broadway triple threat.

The brief fight scene was very well choreographed, even if the dance numbers themselves needed more polish. The difference between a good performance and a great performance is attention to detail, and only directors and choreographers with sufficient rehearsal time can reach the stars.

Most of you probably missed this show. Admittedly, the publicity focused far too much on the Broadway and Hollywood versions, and gave precious little detail as to the Windwood production. In fact, it was not even clear if there would be live music, and casting information and good photographs were virtually nonexistent. This is the fault of the producers, not the Colonial. Some good photos of that Kit Kat Klub set with the large band and cast prominently visible would have gone a long way to helping potential ticket buyers know what their dollars were buying. Most theatre-goers I know are still watching their dollars, and you have to work extra hard to convince them to part with them.

Nevertheless, in the quiet off-season the Colonial, Mahaiwe and Mass MoCA all do us proud by finding and presenting theatrical attractions to keep theatre alive when the lakes freeze and life moves indoors. This coming weekend will see a staged reading of ART at the Clark, and the opening of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Shakespeare and Company. There is even a much anticipated premiere of The Waypoint from the Berkshire Fringe at Mass MoCA on February 6. Then on February 12, the Acting Company-Guthrie Theatre production of Romeo and Juliet brings theatre to the Colonial again.

Also worth noting, is Frank LaFrazio in Living With It coming to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on March 13.

Many of our area community and resident theatres are hard at work keeping theatre seats warm and their stages full as well. Check out Gail Sez for a complete calendar.

Publicity, audience development and the art of selling tickets

Photos: The WSJ's Terry Teachout saw and reviewed both Ghosts in Stockbridge, MA and Heartbreak House in Peterborough, NH last summer. (L) Mia Dillon and Randy Harrison in Ghosts, Jaime Davidson photo and (R) George Morfogan and Ellie Dunn in Heartbreak House.

The WSJ Covers Berkshire Theatre Companies

Here in the Berkshires, many of our professional resident companies do exceptional work, and as a result, have attracted national attention. It doesn't happen nearly often enough, but when this sort of publicity lightning strikes, large audiences usually follow. All four of our resident professional companies - Barrington Stage Company, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Shakespeare & Company and Williamstown Theatre Festival - have often been reviewed by the Wall Street Journal's traveling critic, Terry Teachout. Critics from the New York Times and Boston Globe are also often seen in the local audiences.

When the Guthrie Theatre's Joe Dowlling put their "Everything Kushner" Festival together last Spring, he created the perfect storm of publicity. Not only did he undertake the Pulitzer Prize winning Angels in America but the Guthrie also commissioned a new play, The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. They also did an evening of Tiny Plays in which five of Kushner's lesser known short works were performed.

They did this with panache, offering terrific photos and news releases with real news and interesting facts. Their incredibly helpful public relations attracted interest from across the country, including this blog. The critics from the national media flocked to Minneapolis, and the out of town audiences were so large the theatre company hired a concierge to help with hotel arrangements. Selling almost every ticket they could print, the festival's revenues covered a healthy portion of the expenses involved. It was both an artistic and financial success.

Berkshire theatres often note that tickets only cover half of their operating expenses. But that is because they only sell 50-60% of their tickets. Imagine what consistent sell-outs would do. When I was at the Boston Ballet, we managed to get that figure up to 92% of all tickets sold, and that greatly reduced the need for panic fundraising.

Marketing and PR is often handled by people with little real expertise in the art of developing audiences, and so tickets go wanting. Part of the problem is that many companies don't take the task seriously as evidenced by the majority of recent college graduates and actor wannabes in that role in some American companies. With more attention to these staff positions, it is possible that for each additional $10,000 budgeted to hire a real professional in the field, you can expect an increase of $100,000 in ticket revenues. This is not a job for an intern or novice. Nor is it a job to be lumped with sixteen other responsibilities.

Teachout wrote that Elizabeth Aspenlieder is "a splendid stage comedienne whose zany acting is part of what makes Shakespeare & Company the best theater troupe in the Berkshires." She is also a very adroit publicist.

Of course, trying to find audiences when there have been a series of poor choices in production can also have a devastating effect. Audiences know when they are getting a cheap, under-rehearsed product, or an artistic director's vanity project instead of something worth paying for. There is also the important matter of audience comfort. How can it be that we pay ten times the price of a comfortable stadium movie theatre seat for perches barely able to contain a midget? That's a topic that will get analysis from me this spring.

But I digress from the main point of this entry. Which is to recommend a wonderful guide written today by Terry Teachout from the Wall Street Journal. If you have wondered what it takes to get someone from a major publication like the WSJ to cover your "hot" production, this is the ultimate guide. Teachout reveals his agenda and actually lists the playwrights and plays he will consider, and those he avoids like the plague.

He also takes on the common practice of sending out press releases for every minor event, and how it important it is to keep a theatre's website up to date and functional. Here's a sample:

Terry Teachout

"You probably know that I'm the only drama critic in America who routinely covers theatrical productions from coast to coast. As I wrote in my "Sightings" column a few years ago:

"The time has come for American playgoers--and, no less important, arts editors--to start treating regional theater not as a minor-league branch of Broadway but as an artistically significant entity in and of itself. Take it from a critic who now spends much of his time living out of a suitcase: If you don't know what's hot in "the stix," you don't know the first thing about theater in 21st-century America.

"I also have a select list of older shows I'd like to review that haven't been revived in New York lately (or ever). If you're doing The Beauty Part, The Cocktail Party, The Entertainer, Hotel Paradiso, The Iceman Cometh, Loot, Man and Superman, Rhinoceros, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit (the play, not the musical), or anything by Jean Anouilh, Bertolt Brecht, Horton Foote, William Inge, Terence Rattigan, or John Van Druten, kindly drop me a line."

You can find his email address and the rest of his thoughts at the Arts Journal's About Last Night
blog which he writes with Laura Demanski (Our Girl in Chicago) and Carrie Frye.