Richard Armitage’s fans and the theater audience for Love, Love, Love
When Richard Armitage is in a play, I feel like I’m teetering on a cusp between my identities as fan and as semi-regular theatergoer. One of the ongoing problems, frankly, is that fans who don’t go to the theater regularly tend not to understand why theaters don’t cater directly to them (in the way that, say, Peter Jackson did); this has been an issue with both The Crucible and Love, Love, Love. Armitage fans have complained in the last few years about a litany of things: that we can’t get the tickets or the seats we want, or that information isn’t arriving on the time schedule we would prefer, or that the theater isn’t providing the merchandise we want, or that the stage door isn’t organized to give us the opportunities we want, or that we can’t take pictures of our experience in the theater. (I’m writing “we” in that sentence because I share some of those reactions, although not all of them, and I don’t even think all of my own kneejerk reactions to certain things are fair. My issues with fan anxieties around the theater are known and I won’t go into them further here, although I do have a post percolating about why these anxieties are so acute. Some day when Richard Armitage isn’t generating a story every two-and-a-half minutes).
This time in particular, because the Roundabout Theater Company is a non-profit and a subscription venue, I’ve frequently found myself defending the theater to other fans — pointing out that we are a one time thing for them, at least at this point. I hope Armitage will do more work with this group in future; aside from the professional benefit to him, I’ve found every encounter I’ve had with this theater to be pleasant in comparison to those I had with the Old Vic, even if the Old Vic had a better returns policy. But it’s clear that the Roundabout business model is oriented towards two groups: first, subscribers who pick up three to seven tickets for a season and may even donate, as opposed to fans who zoom in for one production but won’t become long-term supporters even if they buy multiple tickets; and second, the regular New York city theatergoer who has a particular modus for obtaining tickets to great theater, which is one primary reason for undertaking the effort to live there. There need to be at least some good seats available at the last minute, even if at high prices, to entice people to keep looking. No matter the fact that Armitage may in part be cast because he attracts audiences, the theater still has to keep space open for those people who will attend the theater regularly — something even more true if the production is a hit. The people who are going to buy year after year need not to feel shut out by fans, or as if theater only exists to serve fans. (And — we’ve talked about this before — there are potential internal consequences to a production if the performers and participants feel that they are primarily performing fan service. The Crucible cast appears to have gotten around that really nicely, but I can’t imagine it always goes that well.)
So it was interesting to me to stumble across this conversation about the viability of theater, between a renowned NYC theater critic, Terry Teachout (that was why I noticed it — I know that name) and Jason Zinoman and Nicole Serratore, also important theater critics in their own right.
It’s hard to put a Twitter conversation in order this way, but this is more or less what they were saying, I think. There may also be more, that I haven’t found (yet).
branch off from “show other replies”:
branch off from “show other replies”:
Re: Waitress, here‘s some additional info. I thought this was an interesting piece even though I haven’t seen and have no plans to see the play.
I agree that the venues for talking about important cultural events in middle-brow terms have largely disappeared in the United States. Still, I don’t think, judging from immediate demand, that the Armitage fandom could have filled this theater, even if we are buying a lot of seats and I’m seeing an effect I also observed in 2014, that people who see it once start seeing it multiple times. I also don’t think that there was any failure of awareness there — we didn’t really need to be marketed “to,” although our fandom may be an exception in its high level of organization of communicative channels. I don’t think there was any lack of effort in the fandom to mobilize to attend the production. Having organized a Yiddish film festival when I was in grad school, I now that it is important to make sure your niche audience gets out to see what you’re doing, but it’s also true that productions can’t depend on niche audiences, at least if they are that small. (Or if they do, you see happening what happens in movies these days so often — only certain niches become worth serving.) And you need to reach audiences that can actually move — which was only true in a limited sense in our case. Yes, people are seeing this who couldn’t go to The Crucible, but the opposite is also true: many people who saw The Crucible won’t be able to manage this trip. If you market to a whole fandom, you inevitably generate the feelings of exclusion among those who can’t participate. We need a live transmission of the play, or a video of it — but that is not the same thing, either. The fact of an international, as opposed to a national, or a local fandom complicates things tremendously.
I think it’s not wrong to say that there are issues with the current theater marketing model, but I’m not sure turning to the niche is the answer, because niches won’t support theater long-term.