Last month, Ken Davenport over at Producer’s Prospective issued a “you make the call” challenge to his readers and it ended up the most read and commented on post of April. People were still adding their opinions as of last Friday. Here is his scenario and challenge.
I have a division at my office that sells group tickets to Broadway shows. A few weeks ago we got an inquiry from a group of 500 people that was looking for a show. Yep, 500! That’s 1/3 of a big Broadway house, which means quite an impact on a weekly gross….
The group came back and said there was one show that they specifically interested in. “Great,” we said and started to place the order.
There was just one problem.
The group explained that there were a few moments in the show that they thought were objectionable, and unfortunately, because of the mission statement of the organization, they would not be able to book their group (of 500!) if those moments were in the show.
Insert dramatic chords here.
The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them.
But would the show make the alterations to satisfy this group?
Insert more dramatic chords here.
Obviously there are a lot factors that would be involved in this decision, like when the group is looking to come (what time of year and what performance during the week), how well the show is doing, how much the group is paying, etc.
But if you’re a commercial theater producer, the question is whether you would be willing to ask your creative team to make the changes to their work to accomodate this bonus to the bottom line?”
The responses to this challenge fell into some general camps- Sure if it isn’t that complicated; What about the fact that 1000 other people paid to see the original show? (sub-set response to this was, Sure if they want to buy the whole house); The artistic choices made were deliberate and that vision should not be compromised, stick to your guns; If you do it once, you create a precedent to do it again.
A couple of interesting points made by a commenter going by Julia was that shows often compromise their content on the basis of an audience’s physical situation: modulating strobes for epileptics, adding illumination for signed performances, captioned performances, audio described performances. Each of these changes the appearance of the performance from the original or alters the experience of other audience members who are not targets of the services.
I haven’t really addressed the issue of changing an artistic choice based on audience feedback since discussing Neal Archer Roan’s tough decisions about Bach’s St. John’s Passion and anti-Semitism. Since the discussion was still ongoing over on Davenport’s blog, I thought it might be appropriate to draw attention to the issues and get people thinking about how they might handle it.
Of course, if we are all to be honest, how we say we would handle it often diverges from how we actually handle the situation when faced with its impact on our own reputation and budgets.
One question I would add to the mix. Are you more likely to make the change if your show is on Broadway or presented by a non-profit organization? Broadway has much more profit motive to their show. The saga of Spiderman with the never ending previews, the rewrites and reissues have shown that Broadway is open to revamping content in response to criticism. (I am surprised no commenter on Producer’s Perspective mentioned that.) While they do it for more than one show, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility a permanent change might not be implemented if appeal to a wider market was perceived.
On the other hand the income from 1/3 a house means a lot more to a non-profit organization than a Broadway show. Though most Broadway shows have less flexibility in doing so, that Spiderman could afford to shutdown for a few months for rewrites is fair evidence that Broadway probably has a little more ability financially to refuse the change on principle alone.