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What's the most effective kind of ad campaign for ballet companies

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We had lots of threads recently in which the need to attract new audiences (while retaining traditional audiences) to ballet.

I was wondering about ballet company ad campaigns. This was triggered by a Miami City Ballet Press release as follows. (I've included key phrases only.):

MIAMI BEACH, Fla (April 21, 2010) – Miami City Ballet (MCB) is launching a bold new ad campaign designed to introduce a new generation of ballet goers to the critically acclaimed company. The “Physical Poetry” campaign also seeks to instill awareness among South Florida audiences that their hometown company – set to celebrate its 25th anniversary – is considered one of the top ballet companies in the country.

[... ] The main campaign visual, which debuts at the end of the month, is an alluring image of two dancers on a beach – a shirtless, sculpted male dancer in jeans lifting a stunning ballerina in a tutu – creating an intriguing merger of contemporary and classical imagery. The idea is to present ballet in a way that is unexpected and causes viewers to rethink their assumptions about the art form. [ ... ]

Newspaper ads will continue the classical/contemporary theme – showcasing some of Miami City Ballet’s young talented stars. [ ... ] “We wanted to really bring out their personalities and use that to draw people in.

[ ... ] the presentation of ballet in an unexpected way will serve as a new entry point to the art, drawing interest from fresh eyes to drive new ticket and subscription sales.

(FYI: Last time around the MCB slogan was "Superhuman Dancers." It sounded pretty much the same as this.)

Generally, ballet advertising is pretty uninspiring, I think. Endless variations of a) women in arabesque, b) men in grand jete, and c) couples in various forms of embrace have been standard procedure for a long, long time.

Have there been any ballet ad campaigns that have actually achieved what their creators say they INTEND achieve? Which have been the best? Which the worst? Which have just put you to sleep?

Any suggestions for something new? Or something that ballet could borrow from successful ad campaigns in other kinds of enterprise?

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Hi Bart,

I think it's very interesting that San Francisco Ballet must be able to track my visits to their website and now whenever I go to various websites or blogs which have nothing to do with the artistic world, beautiful ballet pictures advertising their performances show up. I usually would be bothered that I was being tracked (by a cookie or something) but because I love these ballet pictures and it would otherwise be advertising I wouldn't pay attention to, it definitely gets my attention. I think it's very effective because I have very seriously considering traveling up to San Francisco to see some of these performances. It probably isn't very expensive advertising either...I don't think it costs much to run an ad on a blog. It seems to me to be a very useful tool for advertising for the art world since most of its patrons would typically be internet users. Anyway, food for thought.

In fact, if people on this board didn't mind, it seems to me a perfect place to run some of these ads. You could earn some money to pay for the site upkeep.

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla (April 21, 2010) – Miami City Ballet (MCB) is launching a bold new ad campaign designed to introduce a new generation of ballet goers to the critically acclaimed company. The “Physical Poetry” campaign also seeks to instill awareness among South Florida audiences that their hometown company – set to celebrate its 25th anniversary – is considered one of the top ballet companies in the country.

[... ] The main campaign visual, which debuts at the end of the month, is an alluring image of two dancers on a beach – a shirtless, sculpted male dancer in jeans lifting a stunning ballerina in a tutu – creating an intriguing merger of contemporary and classical imagery. The idea is to present ballet in a way that is unexpected and causes viewers to rethink their assumptions about the art form. [ ... ]

Newspaper ads will continue the classical/contemporary theme – showcasing some of Miami City Ballet’s young talented stars. [ ... ] “We wanted to really bring out their personalities and use that to draw people in.”

[ ... ] the presentation of ballet in an unexpected way will serve as a new entry point to the art, drawing interest from fresh eyes to drive new ticket and subscription sales.

Lordy! does this sound lame. I must be missing some cardinal rule of marketing, but why are they even announcing this? It sounds like Don, Peggy, and Sal pitching a client. Just do it, already. If the ads don't speak for themselves it's better not to have shown your hand.

Sigh ... pictures in the newspaper -- even (especially?) of hunky, shirtless danseurs -- aren't "a new entry point to the art"; the theater is the entry point. You want to get them into the theater? Hand out free or ultra cheap tickets to a genuine event. Fall for Dance packs them in performance after performance. They lined up around the block for free tickets to the R+J dress rehearsal. They jammed Times Square for the live big-screen broadcast of the Met's opening night. Maybe most of those who showed up were fans already. Maybe they'll only come back again if the tickets are free. But their attention was duly gotten and they saw the stuff for real.

Bart, I agree that a snail mail brochure of yet another danseur doing that jeté isn't going to do much to build a new audience. The little girl who's going to cut out the picture of the pretty ballerina in the tutu and paste it on the cover of one of her spiral bound notebooks is ours already.

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Regular mail still has its advantages. But I agree they could be a little more imaginative.

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Thanks for those comments.

My feeling is that the standard iconography appeals to ballet-oriented people. Most of us on BT are in that category. Many of us would probably buy tickets even if ads consisted merely of program listings (with casts, of course !!) with no photographs or hype at all.

Of course, we know that "not advertising" doesn't work, and even the worst ad campaign has the advantage of letting people know you are still in business and something about your performance schedule. However, I wonder whether people in ballet organizations really know whether what the put into ads, on line, etc., actually makes much of a difference in audience creation.

What about those "new" audiences that everyone is hoping to attract? -- the young, the hip, the sophisticated, the trendy, the upwardly mobile, and those with surplus income to spend. What do these people want or expect? What appeals to them? What can ballet offer -- in terms of pleasure, escape, status, self-improvement, or whatever motivates them -- that competing art and entertainment forms cannot?

I'm asking because I really don't know the answer. I suspect that I'm not alone in this. :dry:

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What works? That is the question, to paraphrase my friend Bill. The answer to it may even determine whether ballet as we know it is to be or not to be. Using the performers' personalities to draw people in is hardly original; it seems to me to be the latest fad in the industry. And I think it has fatal potential for ballet, which, like other theatre, puts people onstage not to present themselves, but, if they're any good, to present the illusion of something else. An element of this stale and dangerous approach is the idea I've gathered of having dancers talk about what they do. I'm noticing at least some dancers sound confused about it; for instance Gillian Murphy was recently quoted to the effect that

There’s so much power in simply expressing ourselves in movement that has nothing to do with the physical feats we can do.

(from "Time Out Chicago" for April 4-18) "Ourselves"? Well, uh, how about showing us your dance, dear? The emphasis on the personal is very nearly an emphasis on the irrelevant, and risks distracting performer and viewer alike. In the extreme, the naive members of the audience will warmly applaud a dancer obviously straining; we feel generous toward someone in trouble -- not a bad disposition, really, in everyday life -- but it's not the thing that matters in this kind of theater.

So, what works? I've got only a little anecdotal evidence for that. Curiosity about a ballet to music I liked or about a ballet company recommended by a helpful music critic got me in, and my own efforts to get others in have always involved the classical-music connection, free tickets, and, usually, some good video exposure early on. But I don't know how many of my inductees went back on their own dime, and anyway, I was doing it retail and we'd like to have it happen more wholesale.

Long ago, I think it was the morning after the first "Dance in America" broadcast, which featured the Joffrey Ballet, I believe a line formed at the City Center box office which extended out the door, down the sidewalk, and around the corner. But that was New York. Still, I don't let go of my hunch that a "free sample" approach can be helpful. (Your restaurant is empty? Put somebody out on the sidewalk with a tray of free samples.)

Longer ago, well before the age of television, the cross-country tours of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo were marketed with some success, I guess, but some customers confused it with something they'd had previous experience of: "What language is this ballet in?" some asked when the tickets went on sale, and afterward, there were some complaints that "I enjoyed it, but I couldn't hear a word." (I'm relying on memories of reading contemporaneous press accounts on display in the Cincinnati Library during a "Ballet Russe" festival there a few years ago.) I mention these things not just to amuse but to show that some marketers got an approximate alignment between expectation and performance: People understood that it was musical theatre, not personal or athletic display. I think if there's fair agreement between expectation and delivery, people are likely to be satisfied, even pleasantly surprised, and be disposed to return someday.

But the musical connection seems to be avoided today like the proverbial plague. I recently asked a frequent poster in the MCB forum who attends classical-music concerts as well whether he'd ever seen an ad for a ballet presenter in a classical concert program. He hadn't, and neither have I, although I have seen the opposite. Decades ago, finding some marketers in conversation during intermission at ballet programs here in Chicago, I asked about advertising ballet to the classical audience. "NO!" was the curt reply, both times. I don't understand that.

More recently, encountering some ballet PR people elsewhere, inquiring about their approach to their job, I was told, "Get 'em in and hope they like it!" It seems a blunt, unfocused attitude.

The press release bart quotes above seems to be publicity about publicity; pretty lame, as Kathleen says. Somebody with too much time on their hands? How is publicity about publicity supposed to help MCB? I suppose it might do something for the publicists among their co-workers in the area, but what else? (The last time I counted names in a MCB program, I think I found one development staff person for every three dancers. Of course they don't all work on publicity, but I wonder what the ratio is elsewhere, and what they do do.)

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You raise inetresting points and questions, Jack.

But the musical connection seems to be avoided today like the proverbial plague. I recently asked a frequent poster in the MCB forum who attends classical-music concerts as well whether he'd ever seen an ad for a ballet presenter in a classical concert program. He hadn't, and neither have I, although I have seen the opposite. Decades ago, finding some marketers in conversation during intermission at ballet programs here in Chicago, I asked about advertising ballet to the classical audience. "NO!" was the curt reply, both times. I don't understand that.
Neither do eye. The emphatic "NO" is interesting .. and a little scary.

For years, ballet was a widely considered to be a strong and equal partner in a classical package of theater/ opera/ ballet/ symphony. Many older members of the audience continue to support -- via subscriptions and donations -- the classical arts in all four genres.

When did ballet marketing try to spin itself off by positiioning itself as a genre of its own? My impression is that people who support the classical arts as a whole no longer value ballet as highly as an art as they did in the past. At least in the United States.

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But the musical connection seems to be avoided today like the proverbial plague. I recently asked a frequent poster in the MCB forum who attends classical-music concerts as well whether he'd ever seen an ad for a ballet presenter in a classical concert program. He hadn't, and neither have I, although I have seen the opposite. Decades ago, finding some marketers in conversation during intermission at ballet programs here in Chicago, I asked about advertising ballet to the classical audience. "NO!" was the curt reply, both times. I don't understand that.

Could the reason be as simple as a fear that too many people can only afford one or the other? Or will only make time for one or the other?

Anyhow, the "Physical Poetry" campaign -- and even the phrase "physical poetry," which sounds like bad poetry -- makes me cringe. Are audiences going to see that "intriguing [ugh] merger of contemporary and classical imagery" on stage? Even if they do occasionally, is that MCB's regular fare?

Sometimes I just think that in cultural terms, ballet is a vegetable, and the general public, taken up with pop culture as it is (not that I don't enjoy some of that) has too much of a sweet tooth. Some people mature in their tastes, but others don't. And given all the entertainment options today, who can blame them?

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Sometimes I just think that in cultural terms, ballet is a vegetable,

As in, "Eat your vegetables, they're good for you"? Or, "Eat your vegetables or you won't get any dessert"? It's supposed to be an entertainment! Although when I offer some helpful comment or observation to an audience member near me, a bit of how I look at something we just saw or are about to see, I'm sometimes asked, How did you know? Or, How did you think of that? I answer, The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. It's like a hobby. Some of us work at our passion some, but I think that a little effective introduction or orientation is part of the proper function of PR. Prospective customers deserve some good idea of what they might be in for, but I'm not sure the marketers can do that. I don't think many have it to give, although in conversation with some of them I (rarely) hear "I go myself sometimes", which may only mean "I'm like you"; just so much self-promotion, as in, "I'm like you so don't be critical of me."

At any rate, I continue to think that marketing something as what it is not, or what it at its best it is not, is inefficient at best. From the standpoint of the product or service marketed as we normally think of them, anyway. But this old cynic has another idea. Why do the marketers mount these unlikely-seeming campaigns? (I say "unlikely", because I have a hard time thinking that an approach that repels enthusiasts for anything will attract newcomers.) Maybe their first priority is to promote themselves and their industry, as in: "You want to sell more? Hire more of us, we know." I'm not so sure they do. I'm a pessimist about many things, but I'm pessimistic about my pessimism: I may be wrong. But if the marketers' market, the people who hire them, can be persuaded to accept their inefficiency, then selling more translates to more business for them, according to this line of speculation.

Edited by Jack Reed

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But this old cynic has another idea. Why do the marketers mount these unlikely-seeming campaigns? (I say "unlikely", because I have a hard time thinking that an approach that repels enthusiasts for anything will attract newcomers.) Maybe their first priority is to promote themselves and their industry, as in: "You want to sell more? Hire more of us, we know."

Cynicism, Jack? Quel horreur. Surely they do this work out of their love of art and the goodness of their hearts? Don't they? :dry:

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Are we clear that I mean I am cynical, not that they are. I'll bet some -- many -- do feel some love of art and believe they chose this work out of the goodness in their hearts. They're not completely cynical, though I wonder sometimes, thinking of marketing generally, what fools they take us for. No, I think they believe in themselves and believe that they way they are doing it is the way to do it, that that way benefits their clients and promotes a Good Thing. Any doubts they may have they can assuage by looking around their industry or profession and seeing that that's the way everybody is doing things; as we've noticed, similar techniques turn up in different places. (Or do I misunderstand Kathleen completely?) But I have my doubts, fed by my experiences in the audience. (Sometimes people say, You know so much about it, are you with the ballet company? And I say, No, I'm with the audience. That's when the putting-in-and-getting-out bit seems timely.)

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Sometimes I just think that in cultural terms, ballet is a vegetable,

As in, "Eat your vegetables, they're good for you"? Or, "Eat your vegetables or you won't get any dessert"? It's supposed to be an entertainment!

I think we might be on the same wavelength here, Jack -- I mean as in as tastes mature, the time comes when vegetables taste as good or better than sweets. :dry: But of course people who only want entertainment and aren't willing to put something into it as they would with a hobby, to use your apt example, aren't likely to take the first bites anyhow. And trying to pass of veggies as desserts kinda turns me off.

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Get some GOOD PR person who knows what to do and really wants the job done and you'll see the difference. I always mention the New World Symphony here in Miami as an example. Compared to them, the MCB has a LONG way to go. Among other things, NWS ALWAYS keeps weekly notifications on the e-mail, complimentary events, notifications on local papers and what's most important, 50 % OFF ALL TICKETS FOR STUDENTS-(for being pricey tickets one of the MAIN reasons of the arts scene poor attendance ...)

Also, they always keep all current and upcoming events on display posters in front of the theater, something I also don't see in the MCB building...

...and I could keep going on and on...

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I always mention the New World Symphony here in Miami as an example. Compared to them, the MCB has a LONG way to go.

Not to mention a tantalizing (almost delectable) brochure for their next season. It said -- directly and clearly -- exciting programs, magnificant playing, fascinating musicians. It would definitely have convinced me to attend if I lived closer.

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I always mention the New World Symphony here in Miami as an example. Compared to them, the MCB has a LONG way to go.

Not to mention a tantalizing (almost delectable) brochure for their next season. It said -- directly and clearly -- exciting programs, magnificant playing, fascinating musicians. It would definitely have convinced me to attend if I lived closer.

Compared to that brochure, the work I've seen from MCB and even a larger company like ABT seem relatively clueless as to what captures the attention of non-habitual audiences.

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Over on the NYCB Opening Night Gala Spring 2010 thread, abatt writes

I thought Millipied's new ballet (with its pretentious title, "Why Am I Not Where You Are") was a disappointment.

I don't like the title either, or the idea of giving ballets titles that sound like novels or short stories, but I wonder if the practice won't catch on as a way to bring in young audiences.

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Well, this seemed to have worked for the Joffrey:

On Aug. 18, the Groupon online “deal of the day” offered discounted subscriptions to the upcoming season of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Within 24 hours, 2,338 people had taken the bait, the Joffrey announced the following day in a press release. To offer some perspective, the Joffrey had about 4,900 subscribers on Aug. 17. In other words, the ballet company saw a nearly 50 percent increase in its subscription base in one day.

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The only arts-related one I've seen in Seattle or Vancouver has been Vancouver Opera's for a single performance "Lillian Alling", a commission from John Estacio (music) and John Murrell (libretto) that opens in October. I joined Vancouver Groupon when it launched, but Seattle was already going strong, and I might have missed earlier ones from there.

Hopefully they'll get decent retention next year, but they shouldn't expect the kinds of renewal rates they get from their loyal base. I'd love to see the P&L and long-term results on this one. It's interesting because unlike magazine subscriptions (apart from newsletters), the publisher expects to break even at the [n]th renewal, mainly based on the cost of acquisition (print and other media ads, direct mail packages, insert cards, cut to Publisher's Clearinghouse, etc.), the cost of acquisition is time spent to set it up with Groupon. I don't know Groupon's cut or the payout schedule, but the incremental cost of the new subscriptions is administrative, ticket and program printing, and mailing, and, if they have to open up a new section, more ushers.

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The only arts-related one I've seen in Seattle or Vancouver has been Vancouver Opera's for a single performance "Lillian Alling", a commission from John Estacio (music) and John Murrell (libretto) that opens in October. I joined Vancouver Groupon when it launched, but Seattle was already going strong, and I might have missed earlier ones from there.

Hopefully they'll get decent retention next year, but they shouldn't expect the kinds of renewal rates they get from their loyal base. I'd love to see the P&L and long-term results on this one. It's interesting because unlike magazine subscriptions (apart from newsletters), the publisher expects to break even at the [n]th renewal, mainly based on the cost of acquisition (print and other media ads, direct mail packages, insert cards, cut to Publisher's Clearinghouse, etc.), the cost of acquisition is time spent to set it up with Groupon. I don't know Groupon's cut or the payout schedule, but the incremental cost of the new subscriptions is administrative, ticket and program printing, and mailing, and, if they have to open up a new section, more ushers.

I'd love to do the spreadsheet on this one. The cost in terms of forgone ticket revenue would need to be weighed against the cost of other kinds of marketing -- print ads, e.g., or discounted single tickets, or the kind of free, outdoor, big-screen broadcasts the Met puts on. As it is, the Joffrey has already gotten several column inches of free press. (As has Groupon, of course ... the Joffrey ought to ask them for a discount. :wink:)

I imagine that the buzzy success of the Groupon offer is good marketing to the board and other potential donors, too. It makes the point that there is an audience for serious dance out there -- i.e., that the big donors' bucks aren't just keeping a dying art alive on life support.

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Ballet is not affordable. One of the successes of the Florida Grand Opera vs. MCB is the way they handle student discounts, opera packages-(5 operas for the price of 4), rush tickets-(50 % off 30 minutes before the performance)-and in general lower prices than those of the ballet-(you can buy a $10.00 ticket, even if it is all the way up).

Every time I try to promote ballet performances among, let's say, my coworkers, some of them in the range of minimum wage, the first thing they ask me is How much...?

When faced with the reality of cost, they immediately put the conversation to an end.

The most effective campaign for ballet is the one that hasn't happened...to make it affordable to the average Joe.

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Ballet is not affordable. One of the successes of the Florida Grand Opera vs. MCB is the way they handle student discounts, opera packages-(5 operas for the price of 4), rush tickets-(50 % off 30 minutes before the performance)-and in general lower prices than those of the ballet-(you can buy a $10.00 ticket, even if it is all the way up).

Every time I try to promote ballet performances among, let's say, my coworkers, some of them in the range of minimum wage, the first thing they ask me is How much...?

When faced with the reality of cost, they immediately put the conversation to an end.

The most effective campaign for ballet is the one that hasn't happened...to make it affordable to the average Joe.

Everything live is expensive. Want to see the Yankees play the Orioles tonight? Unless you want to sit in the bleachers or the very tip-top of the grandstand, those tickets will cost you between $48-$300. Those $300 seats aren't even in the luxury boxes. (The cheapest grandstand seats, which are so far away from the action that they are barely in the Bronx, cost $20.) Want to see Shakira at Madison Square Garden? That will cost you between $149.50-$39.50. (Alice in Chains is a little cheaper; tickets for their upcoming MSG show go for $75-$39.50.) Taking the family to a game at Yankee Stadium or a concert at MSG is an expensive proposition even before you throw in the cost of transportation and refreshments.

My 1st ring center NYCB tix look like a relative bargain in comparison; 4th ring tix -- $35 for rows C-K center or $20 for rows C-K sides or rows L-O center -- are a bargain plain and simple. The view from there is much better than the view from the top or even second-to-last tier at Yankee Stadium. (The sound at the Garden stinks no matter where you sit.) My ticket to see Avatar in 3-D cost just $2 less than the lowest-priced NYCB ticket. It's affordable to see the ballet, just not from the very best seats -- but in a well-designed venue like NYST / Koch, the not-best seats can still be decent. How much cheaper would they have to be for folks not to cite price as the reason they don't go?

I'm not disputing that the cost of ballet tickets can be high - just pointing out that the cost of tickets to anything is high, and that the arts aren't really more prohibitively expensive than anything else. Live Nation sales are way off this year, and the high price of tickets have been cited as one of the main drivers.

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I agree. Super prohibitive prices for sports and arena concerts probably make look ballet prices less prohibitive...but the thing is, at the end of the story they're ALL still prohibitive for the average American.

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I agree. Super prohibitive prices for sports and arena concerts probably make look ballet prices less prohibitive...but the thing is, at the end of the story they're ALL still prohibitive for the average American.

Agreed - I don't see how a family trip to a ball game can be anything more than a once-in-a-blue-moon treat. Pricing is surely one reason why minor league ballparks are a hit with families.

And in the case of live sports, you're paying a hefty premium for atmosphere. If I want to see "Serenade" at all -- be it from prime seats or no -- I have to go to a live performance. If I want to see CC Sabathia' change-up, I'm probably better off perched in front of a big-screen TV at the local sports bar than I am perched in the upper grandstand. And the popcorn is free at the bar.

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It's affordable to see the ballet, just not from the very best seats

I also agree. Generally, when I tell friends how much it costs to see the ballet, opera or symphony, they're astonished at how little the cheap seats cost. These people often make less than average, but are nevertheless willing to pay through the nose to get great seats to rock concerts because they love the bands, simple as that. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to let people know that tickets to the ballet can be bought cheap, but I'm afraid that the bigger obstacle would be persuading those same people that it's worth going to see in the first place. (I once nearly persuaded a friend to come to the ballet with me, except that she'd already spent a small fortune to go see Leonard Cohen that night.)

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I just got a letter from AAA (Washington) with a picture of a nutcracker driving a tow truck and the tag line: "No, Nutcracker won't give you a tow, but he will give you 20% off Nutcracker tickets" for PNB's "Nutcracker" through 22 September. And there are no blackout dates.

That's got to reach a wide audience.

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