One of our most successful shows was Helium: A Short Adventure for One. To compensate for having one audience member at a time Helium played relentlessly on a loop. On Saturdays we did 9 hours of performance (Interestingly LipSync, Robert LePage’s 9 hour epic was in the Barbican’s main space at the same time we were in the Pit.)
Helium was made up of 5 scenes and each scene lasted 5 minutes and each was repeated back to back without pause 12 times an hour for anything up to 4 hours- the performers in the boxes (Victoria Pratt, Richard Warburton and Alexander Winterkamp) displayed a real determination in those times. Helium played to over 1100 people in the end.
But many of our shows aren’t appropriate for such relentless repetition. And we’re also getting older and I am not sure I could cope with such a schedule now.
And so we have made our peace (of sorts) with the idea that not all of our shows will be seen by huge crowds. More importantly our supporters and funders have made their peace with this too. A wonderfully enlightened commissioner once declared, when the issue of value for money came up- “I’m wanting eyes on stalks, not bum on seats.” I like that. Eyes on stalks.
And so Mapping the City in Hull played to 30 a night because that’s how many you could get on an antique bus that magically appears from around the corner mid show and everyone was okay with that. Good.
We are very lucky at Slung Low that we can make such decisions and they don’t affect the price of the tickets. It is a position of unbelievable privilege and one that we take very seriously.
I made a new year’s resolution this year that I would start paying for my own theatre tickets. Like most people who work in the theatre I am invited to so many things that I need never actually pay cash for a theatre ticket. But (partly inspired by witnessing an Artistic Director of a building quietly, over a number of years, pay for the coffee of every one of his guests when other staff members put them on account) I was worried that the value of the experience of going to the theatre was being reduced in my mind.
I was right- it was. But having kept up the resolution for a number of weeks I had to stop. I was broke.
Going to the theatre once a week with my wife was destroying any semblance of budget that I had- a pair of tickets for a non commercial show was costing more than the very lovely dinner that we had had before.
I don’t know when going to the theatre became so expensive but it has and it worries me a great deal. People will talk about offers and schemes but if a middle class couple don’t want to go to first Tuesday evening performance then neither will a working class couple who can’t afford ?25 a ticket on a Saturday. But both groups of people pay taxes for their subsidised theatre industry that only couple can afford to attend.
And crucially we’re all going to rely on the public support and enthusiasm of both couples when the Government turn their attention yet again to reducing the subsidy.
But with funding cuts and current Government pressure to embrace both commercial and philanthropic models more and more organisations are forced in to raising ticket prices. Pushing the idea of going to the theatre as an activity further and further from many people. I have no idea what the answer is but the problem is becoming increasingly obvious.
And so it is with a growing sense of responsibility and privilege that Slung Low thanks it’s lucky stars that we are fortunate enough to continue to explore forms that have limited capacity and keep ticket prices within reach of everybody. Indeed- thanks to the far sightedness of the Arts Council and the North Yorkshire County Council- Slung Low’s Converging Paths as a series of performances is entirely free.
But- beyond money- I have woken up to a responsibility that I haven’t fully understood before. We’re starting to run out of tickets- more people now want to see our work than we have capacity.
If you are a friend of the company, or have seen our work before, or our mate or our Arts Council dude then you will have much more chance of getting a ticket to see a limited capacity Slung Low show. Because you will hear about it first. But that doesn’t seem fair on all the people who don’t follow us on twitter or such. We have had big discussions about how to cherish the existing audience but make room for new ones.