sTage sTruck

Peter Craw­ley on the price of theatre tick­ets

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

How much are you will­ing to pay to go to the theatre? Does ¤30 sound a lit­tle steep? Is a free event some­how off-putting? Or, to go to an­other ex­treme, the ex­am­ple of Free Theatre Be­larus, would you trade time in prison to ex­er­cise your right to free ex­pres­sion?

The con­trast be­tween the jaded eco­nomics of Ir­ish theatre and the dar­ing de­fi­ance of un­der­ground arts in a dic­ta­tor­ship couldn’t be sharper. But on one thing they seem to agree: in both cases the theatre is worth pre­cisely what you’re will­ing to pay for it.

Not too long ago an on­line poll was cir­cu­lated among theatre mak­ers ask­ing whether ticket prices were too low in Ire­land. About 60 per cent per­cent said no. That’s the tra­di­tional think­ing of theatre, one that sees ev­ery throng­ing cin­ema and glow­ing plasma screen as a pow­er­ful en­emy, and be­lieves that an au­di­ence needs ev­ery in­cen­tive to cross the thresh­old in the first place.

Such logic is be­hind Na­tional Cul­ture Day, the gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal to scrap en­try charges for sub­sidised venues for a whole 24 hours a year, which seems a lit­tle par­si­mo­nious next to the UK’s pro­posal to do ex­actly the same thing for a whole week.

But there is an­other school of thought, now push­ing ten­ta­tively at the ceil­ing of the price bracket, which says that if a show can’t hope to re­coup its costs from the box-of­fice, then keep­ing the price down ac­tu­ally devalues the work.

There couldn’t be a more ex­tra­or­di­nary com­par­i­son than the Free Theatre Be­larus, which stages se­cret per­for­mances in apart­ments and forests around Minsk and whose au­di­ences know that they may pay for their at­ten­dance with their lib­erty.

Banned by the state, which, since 1994, has been un­der the near-dic­ta­tor­ship of Alexan­der Lukashenko, the com­pany have found that po­lice raids and ar­rests are a com­mon toll for their as­ser­tion of free speech. “It hap­pens pretty of­ten,” said found­ing mem­ber Natalya Kolyada last week with grim hu­mour dur­ing a pub­lic in­ter­view on the Project stage.

The stakes are even higher than that. Kolyada and di­rec­tor Vladimir Scherban were cer­tain that two of their ac­tors would lose their jobs at state theatre for hav­ing de­fied the au­thor­i­ties and per­formed in Lon­don last week. It was both in­spir­ing and hum­bling to hear Scherban re­count how he lost his job and apart­ment for di­rect­ing Some Ex­plicit Po­laroids four years ago. “It was the end of my ca­reer,” he shrugged, “but it was more im­por­tant to speak.”

Even the au­thor of that play, Mark Raven­hill, one of the com­pany’s many in­ter­na­tional cham­pi­ons, took a vi­car­i­ous thrill from their un­der­ground ur­gency. “I have to ad­mit, guiltily, to en­joy­ing this feel­ing of fear,” he wrote about at­tend­ing a clan­des­tine per­for­mance in Minsk.

But the com­pany’s strong­est fol­low­ing, young peo­ple be­tween the ages of 16 and 21, don’t go there for kicks. They fight to at­tend th­ese shows be­cause free­dom of ex­pres­sion is not merely an op­por­tu­nity cost, but a nec­es­sary com­po­nent of hu­man­ity. For this they will pay any price – and make no con­ces­sions.

pcraw­ley@ir­ish-times.ie

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.