DAVID To Close One Week Early – Seeing It In Print

From Today’s Washington Post:

Theater J will close “David in Shadow and Light” on June 15, a week earlier than scheduled, due to slow ticket sales, publicist Rebecca Ende said. The original musical about the Old Testament king was an expensive ($250,000), long-gestating investment for the theater. Those who have tickets for the canceled shows will be rescheduled to earlier performances.

We informed our cast last week and then began calling the 160 ticket holders for that final week of scheduled performances that would be cancelled. We’ve never done that before. Of course, we’ve never had a show scheduled to run for 7 weeks before either. At 6 weeks and 28 performances, DAVID is still getting a long and respectable run. It would have been a shame to stagger to the finish line with an average of 30 patrons in the house per night for that 7th week. So we bit the bullet. We have healthy house sizes for the duration of our run–now through June 15–and we’ll go out in strong style. Despite the huge investment made in the project, we were well capitalized and we won’t end the season with a gaping hole deficit. In fact, because a half dozen true believers have stepped forward since the posting of our closing notice, and we’re hoping that another half dozen or will do the same before month’s close end, we’re on track to balance our budget and conclude Theater J’s most successful season ever. And so the ironies abound: Our most expensive show to ever take it on the chin concludes our most popular season. One of the most artistically daring premieres to come out of our shop meets up with a wave of surly criticism and passionate advocacy, resulting in the busiest blog traffic and most website hits we’ve ever had! And at the same time, ticket sales trickle in at an achingly slow, low volume. Aching, but not embarrassing, let it be noted. Our single ticket income will come in 60+% lower than we budgeted. Closing a week early helps put that percentage closer to 50%. And given the strength of the season, we’re able to absorb that loss. So the blow is not mortal; hardly fatal to anyone, nor to the enduring achievement that is the score, the story (as it unfolds and what Yehuda Hyman dramatizes in his tale of human potential and its fallibility), nor to the commanding performances of the company.

The closing notice is a public admission that the show absorbed a bruising body blow. And that potential ticket buyers stayed away because of a round of reviews. I don’t feel like mincing those words. An incredibly strong presentation of a “wildly audacious, genre-defying show” is felled by a first wave of notices that puts its ticket sales in a deep freeze. A second wave of good notices comes late, a full ten days to two weeks later, but ticket buyers don’t seem to respond. So rather than noticeably limp home to one finish line, we consolidate our performances and go out singing strong. That’s the logic and the reality of what’s happening.

We didn’t expect this show to be such risky material. One person’s classical narrative is another person’s uneasy bible story “best left to Sunday School.” As I’ve written before, we pressed an Ambivalence Button here. We know that some of our critics had rejected postmodern, biblical narrative-driven theater pieces before and still we went forward convinced that the stature and seriousness of our endeavor–the sheer quality of what we were amassing–would win out. There were many partial victories throughout. Mastering the music. Fielding a top flight band to play it out. Integrating dance. Pulling it off. We hit a home run with some, and struck out with others. “Head held high, sir” Uriah tells the young shepherd boy after David kills the giant in one of the funnier comic moments in our show. We strike the pose, like Young David. And parade our show proudly. Still haunted by what’s just transpired–an act of violence that we were a part of–as we soldier on with many new battles still in store. And all those new wives… Hmm… David’s drama will live on and on. But we close in two Sundays.

“The King is dead/LONG LIVE THE KING.”


2 thoughts on “DAVID To Close One Week Early – Seeing It In Print

  1. “Still haunted by what’s just transpired–an act of violence that we were a part of–as we soldier on with many new battles still in store..”

    Maybe I am missing something here – but isn’t it an overkill to say getting poor notice and sales “an act of violence” ? I have seen many fine shows at TheaterJ and hope to see many more in the future. But to get an occasional poor review,however unjustified one may feel, is part of the game, isn’t it ?

  2. Well, who doesn’t get carried away on a blog, Niraj? Still, as I’ll document in one of our final DAVID postings still to come, there was mortal harm done to this show through reductive short-hand and an active campaign to dissuade audiences from coming. Evidence? The May 23 Wash Post Weekend section’s new “Going Out Guide” on Page 5 which, for the first time on a theater production, instead of saying “GO” or “MAYBE” (the common recommendation made for films, plays, or other events), said “STOP!” over a picture of our King David. How damaging were was that negative exhortation? It was deathly. Am I overstating? The “STOP” cry with its subsequent lifting of two lines of a negative review from Peter Marks created the impression that we were staging an unwatchable, unworthy play. This, to my mind, is an act of artistic violence. “All part of the game?” Only if one has a casual approach to giving birth to new work. New plays and musicals fight for their lives. Criticism can be nurturing. “STOP! DON’T GO!” is a harsh and fiercely destructive response to what’s been birthed. So that’s where my language comes from. Still, I appreciate you reading the blog so closely.

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