Monday, November 12, 2007

How much to charge for a show?

Theatre groups in East Africa have for a long time grappled with this query and, almost always, have left the mathematics to ‘usual custom’. So that despite economic dynamics, entry charges to shows have remained static for years as if they are meant to be tokens from sympathetic patrons. The fact is that these charges are a revenue item in the productions’ profit goals and, like other factors, should reflect true inherent value.

And how do theatre houses fix their auditorium hire rates if, as is common in these parts, they are not involved in the nitty-gritty of the show production? Is there a costing process that guides their rates or, as is suspect, do the theatre managers simply calculate backwards from the bottom line expected by the house owners/shareholders? Callous as it may seem, the owners/managers are under no obligation to negotiate rates with theatre groups especially when the house is a private/company investment. Sadly for the groups, the hire rates constitute quite a big chunk of their meager expenditure budgets.

The low entry charges, high auditorium charges and pathetic marketing strategies set the stage for a cycle of box office commercial disasters, low quality shows and dwindling patronage. The numerous idle and dusty auditoriums are a sad monument to the inability of theatre groups to grasp business principles or keep pace with changes. Rather than concede this, most are content to blame the public for not being appreciative of theatrical performances and being lukewarm in their support.

The reality is that the theatre groups have inflicted upon themselves this festering wound. They have continued to price themselves out of business with commercially senseless rates that even demean their ‘brand name’ amongst potential patrons. They have been slow to acquire entrepreneurial skills to enable them manage engagements with other businesses for reciprocal support in the form of, say, advertisements. The number of their stage performances is inconsistent to impress theatre houses into arranging contractual hire rates… their foibles are seemingly endless.

It is time that artistes stopped the perpetual grumbling that theatre does not pay. It won’t pay, if they don’t make it pay!

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