It was a beautiful Thanksgiving week of perfect touch-football weather (and we played some); today it’s rainy and the leave-taking begins. Families and wayward children returning to where they have to go. And HONEY BROWN EYES bows out today with two final shows at 3 and 7:30. It’s been a great run for the play which, as you know, has collected great reviews, spawned extraordinary discussion and other theatrical programming, gotten picked up for publication in one national magazine and stands poised to be produced elsewhere around the nation next season.
But it’s also true that these last 8 weeks have been some of the hardest the US economy has weathered in over half a century. And that drop off in consumer confidence–witness the nose-dive in retail sales–has touched our production, and most of the other theatrical productions in the city, as well. Despite a great night in the Goldman Theater last night, where we saw lots of last minute walk-up sales–dozens of brand new people coming to Theater J for the first time–the show has not met its numbers, despite playing to a respectable 3,400 or so patrons. Because to get those patrons in the door, you see, we’ve had to discount many of our tickets fairly drastically–witness this week’s “$15 Thanksgiving Week Special.” These discounts turned out to be the only way we could generate last minute sales (we did have a few nights of 50 in the house) and the result will see us come in with a shortfall in income. How much? Enough that we were forced to let go of a staff member earlier this month. The first time that’s ever happened at our theater — although it’s happening at other theater’s in a quiet, yet disquietingly, broadly pervasive rate. A kind of heartbreaking reality–these demonstrations of fiscal discipline–needed in light of the way a few of our other budget numbers–on subscriptions, on hotel accommodations–had not broken our way either. A big chuck of change here, a big chunk there, and it begins to add up.
The good news? Our largest ever grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for our upcoming “Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival.” And a major new grant supporting a Visiting Artists Series in the future–a grant soon to be made official in the new month. And that’s only ONE of the big announcements we’ll be making in December.
Yes, we’re in the middle of a roller-coaster year where we’re doing some of our best work and bringing in huge sums of money–in Sandra single tickets sales and foundation grants on the one hand–and of course reeling along with the rest of the economy as the spooked consumer holds onto some of his/her discretionary income and pressures force a kind of deflation on the bulk of ticket sales. We are anticipating a much harder time meeting our fundraising line this fiscal year and yet, at this point, we’re still right on target, with some of the aforementioned big grants compensating for individual donors who’ve yet to commit or whose contributions have come in under what was given in years past.
It should be noted that Theodore Bikel’s SHOLOM ALEICHEM: LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS is not falling prey to such deflationary pressure. Our advance ticket sales are rivaling Sandra Bernhard’s advance; huge! The show promises to be the right show at the right time, both for our audience–in need of a heart-warming, exceptionally moving journey with Yiddish music (beautifully translated, by the way, by our performer/author) that straddles three centuries (the 19th, 20th, and our current) in looking at the multiple legacies of twin towering icons; both the subject, Sholom Aleichem, and his interpreter, our iconic performer, Theo.
So we’re looking up with respect to our winter programming as we plan to move swiftly into “Voices from a Changing Middle East” come January 14. We’ll need to succeed in bringing folks along for these rides. It’ll be no fun to be lonely on our adventures. And yet we don’t expect to be lonely. Our community is a hearty, diverse, and resilient one. And we’ve experienced a depth of engagement as never before. Consider this: About 800 patrons have attended our Ethics and War Reading series and post-show discussions on Sundays and Thursday night’s during HONEY BROWN EYES. That reflects a highly engaged response from an audience in tune with its theater.
Still, we are concerned, along with everyone else in the country, as to what the future holds. …Which might as well be a song in Yiddish, come to think of it, soon to be sung on our stage by a performer playing a subject who’s absolutely been through worse.
Finally, I want to encourage those of you who read this blog to begin to take the blog back with your comments. Our largest contingent of readers this fall remains the decidedly non-kindred clan from David Duke’s White Supremacist site, or the equally objectionable readership at the White Supremacist Occidental Observer and Bradley Smith’s blog as well. They tune in only to review our articles on Sandra Berhard, of course, but their comments do tend to dominate the feedback loop. And it’s a shame to think that while our hit rate has never been higher, it’s coming mostly from people who don’t like Jews, gays, or liberal democrats. Those of you reading quietly could make us happy by raising a voice or two as well.
We’ll continue to blog through the holidays, even as I get ready for several important readings in New York of my own work. Details to follow on that as well. Happy end of Thanksgiving Week. Discounted tickets–whether we like it or not–are still available! And let’s all look forward to the light of a New Year.