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No Wang for 2004 NutcrackerBoston Ballet must find a new venue


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#16 dido

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 01:38 PM

Read today somewhere (Herald? Globe? Phoenix? Can't remember and lost the paper) that Wang is rumored to be contemplating a multi-year contract for the Rockettes.
Looking at that poll (the Nutcracker leading now at 84%) who's going to go see it the first year, much less years to come? Everybody seems to be insanely polite about this, but I seem to be missing something here, is this not the most widely attended Nutcracker in the world or something ridiculous like that?

Okay, I found it, it's in this week's Phoenix (maybe somebody smarter than I am can get the link) Jeffrey Gantz giving all the pertinent information. He ends,
"Boston has never done anything to deserve a ballet company this big or this good, but we got it anyway. Now, if action isn't taken, we may lose it. The international arts world will be waiting to see whether Boston lets the world's most popular Nutcracker go homeless, and whether it lets one of America's finest ballet compalies go unsupported. We already lost game seven to the Yankees. Our biggest and best daily newspaper is owned by the New York Times. Do we have to trash Boston Ballet so we can watch the Rockettes?"

Edited by dido, 30 October 2003 - 02:12 PM.


#17 citibob

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 02:27 PM

Looking at that poll (the Nutcracker leading now at 84%) who's going to go see it the first year, much less years to come?


The Rockettes have put on shows in many cities. Both they and the Wang Center probably know what they're doing. Web polls are not a very accurate indicator of Rockette ticket sales. By virtue of its nature, the Web poll is going to attract mainly people who have a distinct interest in the article it accompanies --- namely, those who would rather not see the change.

is this not the most widely attended Nutcracker in the world


Yes it is --- but it has also been shrinking for many years. Any rational business model must either take this into account or figure out a way to reverse the decline. One must question the artistic value of being the biggest or of having the most tons of confetti for snow.

Boston Ballet is big enough, it could put on multiple Nutcrackers in smaller auditoriums --- just like it now has multiple schools. It could do a smaller downtown Nutcracker, then one on the South Shore, one in MetroWest and one on the North Shore. That might help boost ticket sales by making it more accessible to the communities that support it. Depending on how it is done, it could also reduce production costs --- not to mention the possibility of employing more dancers in an age where there are thousands of great dancers with no work prowling the streets.

#18 LMCtech

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 04:06 PM

Umm, how would that keep down costs? Touring is EXPENSIVE. Even if you are just touring around the block.

#19 Juliet

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 05:53 PM

I agree. Movable productions are not necessarily less expensive. The company is not that big....and it seems as if more wear and tear on the dancers is the only thing that would result. I don't see why or how they could hire more.

I agree that it is a sad thing not to have Nut at the Wang, as the Hynes Convention Center would seem more the venue for the Radio City Christmas show. The Wang is a beautiful, beautiful theatre and much of the magic of Nutcracker can only be enhanced by the exquisite setting for the production.

Let's hope that a solution will prove viable and not too costly for the company, as well as the audience which supports it.

#20 citibob

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 06:53 PM

I'm not talking about touring. I'm talking about mouting multiple small stay-in-one-place productions rather than one that's the biggest in the country. There are surprisingly few economies of scale in ballet, and it could easily turn out that this is at least as profitable a route to take as the current one.

#21 Watermill

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Posted 31 October 2003 - 10:03 AM

A must-read article from today's Links gives the hard business facts of the Boston theatre space situation...not suprisingly, Big Business is the root of the mess, with Clear Channel assuming the role of Walmart ...


http://theedge.bosto...g?articleid=336

A Boston Boy,
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#22 LMCtech

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Posted 31 October 2003 - 02:15 PM

Oh, don't get me started on Clear Chaneel. Their particular style of hardball used to be called illegal in this country.

citibob, do you mean seveal smaller productions of Nut running all at the same time? I don't think that would work if you only have on set of scenery and/or costumes, as I suspect BB has.

#23 citibob

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 04:05 AM

Yes, that's what I mean. Clearly it would require some re-tooling. The suggestion comes from the observation that whereas BB's business model of the 100,000+ Nutcracker is in danger, plenty of ballet companies do just fine financially on smaller productions. That combined with the fact that BB is many times the size of those companies means that it too could play the mid-size Nutcracker game as successfully as anyone else if it wanted to.

#24 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 05:02 AM

They may do fine, Citibob, but you still have the problem of only a certain number of dancers. You wouldn't really be able to take circa 50 dancers total and do more than one Nutcracker anywhere unless what you wanted to do was a student Nutcracker, and there are already too many of those in that market. Any Nutcracker purporting to be on a professional level but using, say, 25 dancers, would look rather spare and would probably require using a fair number of those dancers in many roles, which would be very difficult on them and risk increasing injury rates. The company is AGMA, and that may be a point of argument for those who think that the union's rules are restrictive on this, but my bet is that AGMA might have something to say about conditions, overwork, etc.

The Wang isn't the largest such venue at less than 4,000 seats. Ruth Page's Nutcracker (and they didn't have a company as such for many years that they did it) performed in the cavernous Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place on the south side of Chicago, and I seem to recall that it had approximately 4500 seats (and a 90 foot proscenium!). Anything built for a place that large doesn't travel well as few theatres have the equipment to house a production like that. Maybe what it comes down to is that the ticket prices for a travelling road show like the Rockettes Radio City Music Hall thing are potentially higher and a big business entertainment conglomerate just has more guarantees to offer.

My particular feeling also is that it is fine to do a few weeks of a great big Nutcracker just about anywhere, but that some companies (and this may include Boston Ballet) fall for the idea that more is always better, add more and more performances per year when it isn't necessary, fail to recognize the potential saturation point and set themselves up for failure that way. It isn't any kind of admission of failure, though. for a company like ABT to do some seasons at the Met and others at City Center, so Boston Ballet shouldn't be looked down upon for doing some performances at the Wang and some elsewhere (not that you are necessarily doing so, but I have heard it mentioned as though it were a shortcoming somehow).

#25 Mel Johnson

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 05:48 AM

The theater availability situation seems to have reached crush depth. When I was working in town on a museum project, I wanted to check out the old Tremont Street Theater, and found that it had been converted into a Baptist Church. Well, at least the place came with a pipe organ! Boston used to have lots of theaters - not barns like the Wang, but of respectable size, and centrally located. Robert Joffrey used to say that it was better to sell out a smaller theater than have the show at a bigger place. The trick was to know when you can sell out the bigger place! :wink:

#26 citibob

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 06:26 AM

Any Nutcracker purporting to be on a professional level but using, say, 25 dancers, would look rather spare and would probably require using a fair number of those dancers in many roles, which would be very difficult on them and risk increasing injury rates.


It always feels wonderful to have the professionality of one's company publicly questioned by someone who does not know it. Our Nutcracker has 20-25 dancers. It is often described as "intimate" by the press, but rarely "spare". We also have one of the lowest injury rates in the industry. Maybe it would look sparse on the Wang stage, but we've never put it up there. The fact is, a performance on a smaller stage in a smaller auditorium doesn't require as many dancers to fill it up.

In any case, hiring more dancers would not be a problem for Boston Ballet. As was pointed out earlier, they only hired 2% of the dancers who came to audition. They could easily hire another 2% for Nutcracker if they wanted to, just like Radio City hires its dancers for the Christmas season. Good dancers are easy to come by. Since dancer salaries are only a tiny fraction of a production's budget, hiring more dancers for the same number of ticket sales wouldn't necessarily blow the budget. (The scenery costs an ENORMOUS amount, and many of these costs are recurring. In past years, advertising has tried to wow us by telling us how many tons of confetti were used for the snow scene --- and then not recycled. I wonder how much that costs...)

I wasn't saying that the Wang Center is the largest auditorium in the country, although it is certainly one of the bigger ones. I WAS saying that BB's Nutcracker is the largest Nutcracker in terms of TICKET SALES.

Maybe what it comes down to is that the ticket prices for a travelling road show like the Rockettes Radio City Music Hall thing are potentially higher


I have a hard time believing that the ticket price for the Rockettes will be any higher than for Boston Ballet's Nutcracker. Nutcracker tickets already run about $90 for good seats, even $36 for lousy seats. That is more than NYCB, more than ABT, more than any show I've ever seen on Broadway. Probably that's because there is less competition than in NYC. I just cannot imagine the market bearing anything more than $90 per ticket at this point.

More likely is that the Rockettes have reigned in production costs. They pay their dancers very well. But orchestra, sets, etc. are probably all on a MUCH smaller scale.

so Boston Ballet shouldn't be looked down upon for doing some performances at the Wang and some elsewhere


I agree entirely. However, that is not their problem with the Nutcracker --- they can still sell plenty of Nutcracker seats, probably enough to justify the Wang Center for them. However, what is the Wang Center to do the rest of the year with such a big theater?

In general, the entertainment and media industry seems to be moving toward more choices, each one in a smaller venue. Big screen cinemas have given way to multiplexes. ABC/CBS/NBC has given way to 250 Cable channels. And I really, really believe that the future of ballet (and live theater in general) lies in a larger number of smaller productions.

Along the lines of choice, here's an idea for those who like the Holiday show but are sick and tired of seeing the Nutcracker for the hundredth year in a row... BB could produce MORE THAN ONE Holiday show. One could be a scaled-back Nutcracker. The other could be something else with a Holiday theme. It could certainly backfire if done wrong, but it could also bring back customers who used to see the Nutcracker but got bored of it after a decade. And the real dance afficiandos would buy tickets to both...

We have a definite shortage of theater space in Boston. We need more small-to-midsize theaters, and we need them more in places like Cambridge. The articles seem to indicate that part of the problem is with the Wang Center itself --- that they have a hard time paying their own bills.

Mel, do you know the address of the Tremont Street Theater? It isn't Tremont Temple Baptist Church, is it? That was always a church... (but is now facing the same problem as the Wang Center, that of filling the seats). Look at it on the bright side, in Cambridge we converted a Baptist Church into a theater.

#27 Mel Johnson

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 06:46 AM

The Tremont was at the corner of Tremont and Avery. Sarah Bernhardt used to play the place. It was the place in Boston where D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation had its Boston debut. It used to be rented by the First Corps of Cadets for their annual "Cadet Show" which in Hasty Pudding tradition, had the female parts played by the men. Their headliner was often female impersonator (Julian) Eltinge.

#28 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 07:09 AM

Just to address one point, Bob:

This is what one of the websites for the Radio City show says about the show:

"It takes over 100 people just to stage the Christmas show, including the cast and crew which loads in the production weeks before the show opens. The total cast of 55 includes Rockettes, singers, dancers, and more. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular includes: "Christmas In New York," which features ice skating, dancing snowmen, a bigger than life New York skyline and a dazzling production number by the Rockettes. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular features an ice rink built on a movable platform. Used during the "Christmas In New York" scene, the rink is made from an artificial surface with the same properties as real ice. Six little people and four children are in the production. Each little person is under four and one-half feet in height, but have big roles as elves in the "Santa's Workshop" scene. Over 300 colorful costumes and 200 hats were specially created for the cast members of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Nineteen playful teddy bears star in the production's tribute to Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." Called " The Nutcracker: A Teddy Bear's Dream," this number features polar, panda, Arabian and baby doll bears in a variety of sizes. During the Christmas engagement, The Grand Palace houses a "zoo" of live animals that appear throughout the show, including the grand finale, "The Living Nativity." This menagerie of animals includes five sheep, three camels, two donkeys, one dog and one horse. Scenery and eight sets were hand-painted and assembled from coast to coast with some elements produced in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland and Washington D.C.. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is produced by Silver Dollar City, Inc. and Radio City Productions, in partnership with the Syncor, Inc., owners of The Grand Palace."

And I have friends who have worked wardrobe on this show. It's absolutely enormous.

#29 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 07:33 AM

It always feels wonderful to have the professionality of one's company publicly questioned by someone who does not know it. Our Nutcracker has 20-25 dancers.
It is often described as "intimate" by the press, but rarely "spare". We also have one of the lowest injury rates in the industry. Maybe it would look sparse on the Wang stage, but we've never put it up there. The fact is, a performance on a smaller stage in a smaller auditorium doesn't require as many dancers to fill it up.


Whoa! I didn't question anyone's professionalism. And I do know your company. But I think I already said that productions of the size you're speaking of already exist to such an extent that I don't know if there would be a point in Boston Ballet attempting to duplicate that effort. I suspect it might end up being seen locally much as the attempt by Clear Channel Entertainment to obtain the Wang Center, and greatly resented.

In any case, hiring more dancers would not be a problem for Boston Ballet. As was pointed out earlier, they only hired 2% of the dancers who came to audition. They could easily hire another 2% for Nutcracker if they wanted to, just like Radio City hires its dancers for the Christmas season.


Bob, if they had 1000 people come to a Boston audition and hired 2 percent of those, that would be 20 people. Not all of them would be local, so they would have to offer housing, possible per diem, and the like. In hiring another theater, there would be another work crew (even if some of them were theater personnel, there would have to be another stage manager, another set of stage hands, another set of wardrobe personnel). There would be a very big outlay for costumes alone, even for a smaller cast, and for sets, even for a smaller theater. And that's not taking into account the different unions involved. I don't know whether Boston Ballet would even be allowed to employ people for a smaller production without the union's okay.

Good dancers are easy to come by.


Do you think so?

I wasn't saying that the Wang Center is the largest auditorium in the country, although it is certainly one of the bigger ones. I WAS saying that BB's Nutcracker
is the largest Nutcracker in terms of TICKET SALES.


I've often thought that a good way to compare numbers would be to take the same number of performances of a run, even accounting for the differences in theater size, and compare them that way. If you program more performances than anyone else, then there's a good chance you'll have greater ticket sales than anyone else, so it always seemed like a strange thing to publicize.

I have a hard time believing that the ticket price for the Rockettes will be any higher than for Boston Ballet's Nutcracker. Nutcracker tickets already run about $90 for good seats, even $36 for lousy seats. That is more than NYCB, more than ABT, more than any show I've ever seen on Broadway. Probably that's because there is less competition than in NYC. I just cannot imagine the market bearing anything more than $90 per ticket at this point.


Don't know about that. I thought I recalled that over a year ago there was some noise about the top ticket price on Broadway going up to 100 dollars. Top at Radio City for that show is 95.00 that I can see. The market in Boston, though, is not IMO going to bear anything higher than it's paying now for a long while. Not certain of the top price at NYCB or ABT.

...what is the Wang Center to do the rest of the year with such a big theater?


Well there's always the umpty-umpth touring production of The Lion King, which seems to be making the rounds these days....

#30 nlkflint

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 07:39 AM

The Wang lost the Lion King to another Theater I believe

During the past four years, ClearChannel has become the biggest player in Boston. When the restoration of the Opera House is complete, ClearChannel will control venues of every size and shape, including the 200-seat Charles Playhouse basement (``Shear Madness''), the 500-seat Charles Playhouse (``Blue Man Group''), the 1,700-seat Colonial, the 1,200-seat Wilbur and, most dangerously for the Wang, the 2,400-seat Opera House.

  In a one-two punch, ClearChannel has come up with a viable alternative to the Wang and forged a relationship with Disney. ``The Lion King,'' on which Spaulding had counted for the Wang, is now scheduled to open at the Opera House next summer.


Boston Herald article on the politics of Theaters in Boston


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