postcards from berlin #19 [tickets for the people]
CALIGULA (r. nunes) @ berliner ensemble
i’ve been stuck on writing this one because it left me pretty unmoved.
not that it was bad, per se. but it didn’t grab me by the guts. which is a bit strange actually cause it’s got a pretty winning formula for grabbing someone like me by the guts: some scary clowns, a weird old play about a roman emperor, a woman in a latex bald cap playing the emperor in question, a chainsaw, buckets of blood, and a young, ballsy director who’s made a name for himself reinterpreting canonical texts with big body counts. i’d order that play off the menu just about every day of the week.
but i’ve been procrastinating on writing this post cause i’ve really got nothing much to say about it.
sure, camus’s text is an alienating play about an alienating dude who alienates himself to the extreme in a sequence of actions that’s more or less about engineering his own suicide (by arming the people who will kill him and pissing them right off).
but that kind of alienation i’m good with. (and no, even though it’s the berliner ensemble i don’t really mean verfremdungseffekt). even with lots of big potent images and high theatricality still i wasn’t all that excited. i didn’t really lean forward.
fine. not every show is a winner. but the thought also occurs to me that i was way up in the nosebleed second balcony at the BE, and it’s a pretty long way to the stage. see, the new BE has a different ticketing policy than most of the theatres here.
as an artist (or a student, senior, or low-income-earner), in germany you can get subsidized tickets (there’s a couple streams for this; artists get steuerkarten but there are also ermässigte karten). it’s why seeing this much theatre here hasn’t busted the bank for me. the tickets range from 8€ to 14€ depending on the theatre. for most theatres they aren’t rush tickets either. you just call up and they’ll put you in the best available seat.
but at the BE they’re only available 4 days in advance, and by that time a lot of shows are sold out. at schaubühne it’s a week in advance. so for both these theatres i just reserved the cheap seats cause i didn’t want to worry about it. and it’s been at these theatres that i’ve felt less enthused about the work than i have at DT or gorki.
it’s maybe not a direct case of cause and effect—it also could have to do with the curatorial aesthetic and my own selection—but it’s worth considering.
it’s simply less likely that someone in the nosebleeds is going to be seduced by a piece than someone in that 4th row centre sweet spot. (conversely, it’s also less traumatizing to sit through a shitty play up there).
theatre in canada is generally way more accessible. as someone who’s struggled to set ticket prices as a producer, you know that you’re trying to read tea leaves to balance your bottom line with the desire to have the work seen. and at larger institutions those best seats are only accessible to subscribers and those willing to dish out that cash.
which leaves those few—those happy few who actually opt for something other than netflix that night, who take a chance on being seduced, those people we most need to convince of the value of live performance—as our hardest targets to hit.
i am not yet sure of the ultimate solution to this in canada. the average per-ticket subsidy (across the board) in germany is 100€ for every ticket sold. the federal and provincial funding increases are not going to hit that target in the next 50 years in canada without some unthinkable miracle, and i’m too tired to listen to myself complain about low governmental subsidies anymore. the solution for us won’t come from the european model.
but this is one more massive barrier to people wanting to get out to BIG theatre and then having the experience of it leaving them cold. people like me who sit through 24 hour plays and go to the theatre 5 nights a week are very much the exception, so being a bit unmoved by a high-concept chainsaw clown show in spite of the tutu zombie descending from the flies crucified on a fog-enveloped cross isn’t likely to put me off from seeing another play.
a few companies in toronto have started experimenting with flexible ticket models. it’s definitely a start, and it’s right now happening in the indies, but maybe our institutions can adopt some of the underlying principles of this model. or invent their own way. all i can say is that for toronto to substantially grow its audience, we’re going to need to seduce people by giving them better access to the better seats.
for more about the show click here.