I so desperately wanted to stick with the angels for a while. Really. And I so desperately wanted to stick with theater as a source of inspiration making everyone feel good about life for a while.
But, alas, it was not meant to be.
Because I just discovered that the revival of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly directed by Julie Taymor is CLOSING THIS WEEKEND practically two months EARLIER than planned. This news, you may not be surprised to hear, ENRAGES me! Why? Lots of reasons, including the fact that the production is terrific from Hwang’s revision (awesome and this is coming from someone who loves the original!) to Taymor’s direction (brilliantly imaginative) to Clive Owen’s and Jin Ha’s consummate acting in the roles of Rene Gallimard and Song Liling. And even if the production wasn’t terrific, I can’t help but think that a play that meshes together a notorious “true story” and Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly deserves at least one viewing. I have lots to say about the production and I will say those things soon, but first I have to address the central reason that I am enraged which is: I HATE when MONEY is THE deciding factor regarding the worth and value of something. And that’s exactly what is going on here. The decision to close early came from the producers who first decided several weeks ago that based on what they deemed disappointing box office returns, the show should close six weeks earlier than planned in mid-January rather than in February. But then just yesterday they decided that in fact the show needs to close THIS SUNDAY. Two news reports cite poor box office returns as the reason, perhaps due to less than inspiring reviews (but the reviews were ABSOLUTELY WRONG), with just 56% of seats being filled. I am VERY SUSPICIOUS about this claim because I went to the production twice and the last time I went was just last weekend during a matinee that was also during a snow storm and the house was filled (as it was the first time I went while the show was still in previews). And not only that, the house was fully attentive to and admiring of the performance. But the reference to having a theater that is half empty isn’t really the issue. If the issue was how to fill a house, I know a way to instantly fill those seats – make them free, or, if money has to change hands, charge 10 dollars a seat. But that’s not what producers are thinking about when they talk about empty seats. They are thinking about how much those seats cost and how much the people in the seats can be made to pay. Because apparently, $383,000 per week is, apparently, a mere 40% of its potential (whatever that means) and thus is grounds to close a show.
So much for the idea that THE SHOW MUST GO ON!
I might not have felt compelled to write (perhaps “blare” is a better word here) a blog post about this tragic decision in order to keep the angel vibe going (but perhaps now what I’m channeling is the avenging angel vibe), except that decisions based on MONEY are getting considerably out of hand these days, especially in New York. So, for example, the restaurant, Noho Star where I have eaten many a good meal with many of my favorite people and thus made many a good memory, just made the announcement that it will be closing after 30 years. The restaurant is always busy so lots of people are going to be disappointed but especially the 54 employees who are losing their jobs at the end of December. And then came the news that yet another community garden, the beloved Elizabeth Street Garden, is set to be demolished as a sacrifice to the ravenous, real estate gods, if City Council Member Margaret Chin and Mayor DeBlasio get their way which depressingly looks to be the case.
And then to add to my anguish even more, there‘s the news that Broadway theater ticket prices, which haven’t been exactly inexpensive, are reaching new highs with the New York Times reporting matter-of-factly that the average price for a ticket to Bruce Springsteen’s solo show, Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, costs $497 per ticket and that’s before the tickets get resold on Stub Hub for thousands of dollars. Don’t get me wrong. I like Bruce Springsteen the performer. I am, after all, though I try hard to deny it, a Jersey girl at heart. I’m not taking issue with Bruce Springsteen the performer. I am, however, taking issue with the pricing of the tickets (and with the lottery system which I didn’t stand a chance of winning, but that’s a different story). What is even worse is that the news item offering the news of the $497 cost per ticket presents this information in a favorable fashion acknowledging that, yes, the tickets are pricey, but then assuaging us with the silver lining of an intimate performance by Bruce. But perhaps what I HATE MOST is the two words that are bandied about in connection to the Springsteen solo show: “financial performance.” That’s how we’re judging performances these days? By how well they perform….financially?! What does such valorizing of ticket prices over, say, the writing or the acting or the performer/audience relationship mean for the future of theater? And what will redefining performance from something that is theatrical to financial do to the SOUL of theater? Nothing good. It is particularly distressing to me that it is a solo performance ticket that is costing $497 per ticket because solo performances are supposed to be ACCESSIBLE both to theater artists and to audiences. If theater is to be allowed to live or die based upon its “financial performance,” then the world out of which came so many vibrant and innovative solo performances, and the world out of which came the revival of M.Butterfly, and the world that means so much to me and taught me so much, is doomed to extinction (as it seems so many other things seem to be in the 21st century).
What is happening to this city that I love??!!
What is happening to the theater that I love??!!
Perhaps the key question is how can we change things?
Which of the words in my title would you choose?