Commentary: What makes someone a fervent fan?

Jessica Crispin,, 7/12/11

In The Opera Fanatic: Ethnography of an Obsession, Claudio E. Benzecry identifies four distinct types of the obsessed attendee: the hero, who believes he is keeping the opera house open and the art itself alive...the addict, willing to sacrifice his families, friends, lovers, money, and sanity to attend multiple performances of the same opera...the nostalgic, for whom everything was better when it was sung by Callas or Sutherland...and the pilgrim, who treats the opera house as a religious temple. Take the "opera" out of the Opera Fanatic, and there are still recognizable templates at play. Opera is often dismissed as a dead art form, as an elitist plaything of the wealthy and the out-of-touch. While the wealthy do remain patrons of the opera houses, statistically speaking, the average opera viewer is much more...normal. Benzecry found that the most devoted are middle class, many the children of immigrants, and, statistically, don't lean more straight or gay than the outside world. So when you do remove the opera, you find that the addicts share much in common with people who get obsessed about other things, whether that be comic books or Lord of the Rings or certain pop musicians or television shows. What remains elusive is the identification of the mechanism in people that chose opera. Benzecry's interviewees all have their theories and their origin stories -- family members who played operas on the phonograph, a waltz randomly heard on the radio, a lover who took them to the opera for the first time -- but there's no specific reason why it was opera, and not, say, an episode of Star Trek. But that's love for you. The more we love someone who hurts us and obsesses us and sets us afire, the more we try to find justification for that love in our past.


In Seattle, luring fans with offers for repeat visits and pay-what-you can

Brendan Kiley, The Stranger [Seattle weekly paper], 7/7/11

"They wonder why more people don't go to theater? I would go all the time if it weren't so expensive." So said Stranger copy chief Gillian Anderson just now. She had read the paper's glowing review of Pilgrims Sheri and Musa in the New World at A Contemporary Theatre and wanted to go. Then she checked the ticket prices. "Fifty dollars!" she shouted (quietly -- Gillian is a soft-spoken person so her shouts sound like the rest of us talking normally). "That's just on Saturday, right?" I said. "What about a Tuesday?" "Forty dollars!" she quietly shouted back. I applaud Seattle theaters for embracing the TeenTix program, which gets the yutes into theaters for cheap. But they've got a whole constituency of middle-aged folks who, like Gillian, are neither young enough nor old-and-rich enough to afford tickets. Just in case you were wondering where all the 30- and 40-somethings (who haven't made a bundle off of the tech boom) were. To be fair to ACT, I also heard someone a few days ago -- not at all a regular theatergoer -- say he was contemplating buying an ACT Pass because he likes to see things that he likes more than once. (The ACT pass is an all-you-bear-to-watch-at-our-theater membership for $25 a month, which might just replace subscriptions as an operating model.) UPDATE: A week after this post, ACT announced that it's going pay-what-you-can for all shows forevermore. Ask and you shall receive, Gillian!


In Chicago, a theater tries to draw fans with a Netflix-like membership

Kris Vire, Time Out Chicago magazine, 7/20/11

Netflix made news last week with the announcement it planned to divorce its DVD rental business from its Internet streaming service. I think it makes sense; the two services feel very different to me. The DVDs are an obligation, taunting me with guilt until I watch them. The streaming service is an opportunity, a cache of available entertainment that says, "Hey, no rush, come check us out when you feel like it." The latter is how Theater Wit's artistic director Jeremy Wechsler characterizes his [company's new] monthly, flat-rate membership plan allowing unlimited attendance at any event in his three-theater venue. Inspired by a similar program at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre, He thinks the monthly, unlimited nature of this new scheme will attract a different crowd than traditional subscriptions, noting that ACT's subscription base in Seattle hasn't dropped after the introduction of its ACT Pass. Wechsler says: "I think it changes the question for the audience member, from 'Should I invest money in this particular show?' to 'Should I go out?'  You're investing nothing but your time, which you're looking for a way to spend." Wechsler acknowledges that, if his experiment is too successful, [they] could lose money. "If everybody buys these and comes four times a month, that could cost us thousands of dollars." But he believes in the model: "A single theater can't offer a 'Netflix' variety, but we've got 35 plays [a year]," he says. "And I think Netflix encourages people to watch more movies."


Commentary: To gain new fans/win back old fans, is a 'reboot' better than a revival?

Parabasis blog, 7/21/11

On Twitter yesterday, Tony Adams asked a question I found intriguing: "Comic-fans, how does rebooting titles compare with the same plays being redone? Similar impulse? or totally different?" Re-booting is much in the air as DC Comics prepares to reboot its entire line-up. For the non-comic book fans out there, a reboot is basically re-starting a comic at issue #1. It all starts all over again as if it never happened before. Does this compare to remounting, say, La Cage Aux Folles again, a show that won Best Revival twice in ten years? Or Bus Stop? I'd say yes...and not quite. The underlying financial motive is very much the same: reinvigorating a valuable property whose value has degraded. A reboot is a great way to attract new readers. In the same way, a revival often takes something familiar and attempts to find a new audience for it while, at the same time, bringing in the audience that's already familiar with the material and just wants to see it again. Artistically, though, there's something a bit different about a reboot versus a revival. Mostly in that, while the bones of the story are the same (kid gets bit by a radioactive spider, loses uncle, fights crime), the details are always new, because there are new writers involved. A revival often brings a new spin on the story, but within the confines of the original script. There's a lot that a director can bring to the table, but with most plays, it's hard to go too far. The exception (as always) is Shakespeare. And that's the closest, I think, theatre comes to the realm of the reboot. Shakespeare's work can be malleable enough and the basic storylines are familiar enough that a clever director can truly reinvent the story, turn things on their heads, even mess around with the backstory or character histories in many ways


Dueling 'fan' groups, backed by competing corporate interests

The New York Times, 7/20/11

This week a new nonprofit group, the Fans First Coalition, announced itself with a mission of protecting ordinary consumers from predatory ticket scalpers. The group appeared to have broad support from the industry, including prominent artists like R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Maroon 5 and Jennifer Hudson. What fans might not know is that the coalition is financed by Live Nation Entertainment, the parent company of Ticketmaster, and that it has grown out of a lobbying fight between Live Nation and StubHub, the biggest legal online ticket reseller, over control of the multibillion-dollar secondary ticketing market.  Muddying the waters further, there is another group with a confusingly similar name, the Fan Freedom Project, which also claims to represent the interests of consumers. But it is largely financed by StubHub, a division of eBay. Both the Fan Freedom Project and the Fans First Coalition say they support basic consumer protections. But they differ over paperless ticketing, a technology that has also become the contentious lobbying issue between Ticketmaster and StubHub, which have spent the last year fighting state by state to influence legislation on ticketing. Paperless ticketing works like an airline e-ticket, with no traditional ticket printed when a customer places an order. Instead, a fan shows his credit card at the theater box office to enter the show, guaranteeing that the person who originally placed the order is the same one attending the event. The technology is favored by Ticketmaster and some artists as an anti-scalping measure. But it is viewed as a threat to the market dominance of StubHub, which sold more than $1 billion in second-hand tickets last year.

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