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Getting a younger audience in

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After seeing Baz Luhrmann's "La Boheme" last night, it was quite obvious that it was commissioned to bring a younger audience (and based on the audience, it's successful)

Has there ever been a ballet that's been specifically commissioned to bring in a younger audience?

And for those that create works, do you ever factor in an audience's age?

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I think of a lot of the classic Joffrey repertory: Astarte; Deuce Coupes I and II; Love Songs.

I remember back when, in the mid-Seventies, Watermill, that ballet everyone loves to hate, had quite a "cult" following. I remember seeing young artsy types at the student-rush line just because it was on the program.

Sigh. It's been a long time since City Ballet was "happening" in that way.

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I'd never heard that about "Watermill," Manhattnik -- interesting. Thanks! I've never seen it (sniff) and only heard the "watching paint dry is more interesting" comments, so it's nice to know that the young were once intrigued by stillness.

There's always Billboards (the not-so-classic Joffrey), a ballet that was calculated to bring in the young, and did -- for awhile.

In "The Red Shoes," the gallery is full of young people (the rich and old sat downstairs). I don't know if any of the Ballets Russes (pre or post War) repertory was programmed to the young, but it attracted them.

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ABT's "Pied Piper?"

I think much of the pop stuff being commissioned today is aimed at a younger audience, and one of the most chilling things I've ever (over)heard was at a cocktail party for board members and company supporters of an Unnamed Troupe :(

Gentleman in Gray: Why are they doing that stuff? I hate that stuff.

Gentleman in Blue: Yes, but they had to do it for the young, and besides, they really can't do the classical things.

Check out the repertories -- for those who subscribe to Ballet Alert!, read the descriptions in the fall preview issue. There's a list of repertories in the Other American Companies forum if you want to take a look at what is being done this season.

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i recall a ballet produced at sfb in the 1980s of 'king lear' with a score by stuart copeland of 'the police' (who also wrote music for the television series 'the equalizer' and maybe others for all i know) which i enjoyed quite a bit. i don't remember its being marketed one way or the other, but i do remember that because of the composer a lot of teenagers who might not otherwise have been at the ballet were there.

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Re Mateo, yes to what Mel says, but my understanding is that the productions are in an intimate theater and the tickets are affordable. Sounds to me like a promising formula! I know our tix to ABT and NYCB do not cover the cost, but even bad seats cost an awful lot. Not to sound like Baz Luhrman, but Broadway is a much better bargain. Why not another ballet on Broadway? Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake certainly attracted lots of people...

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I'm with Mel and balletmama - location and price of tickets is key.

I know we discussed this on an earlier thread...but the idea of creating a week in the spring and winter - or several weekends throughout - that would be somehow offered at a much lower price break for "students" or maybe people who care to show their tax returns ;) could work. I remember there were some arguments about what constituted a "student" etc...

Another way to do it might be more of a Lincoln Center festival type of deal...or a ballet dance festival in which a number of different companies would band together to try to offer this kind of thing. In NYC, if the John Jay Theater was used there might be less "political" intrigue involved...but, then again, perhaps the various ballet companies from large to small might actually be able to work together for the good of their art and get something like this off the ground?

Is there any nonprofit umbrella group that would be able to broker this idea?

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It really is a good idea - the trouble is getting someone to cover the costs. There's always a pull in companies between the bottom line (trying to maximize revenue as much as possible and keep your deficit to a minimum) and audience development (since tickets prices never recoup costs anyway, why not keep prices as low as possible and get more bodies in the seats?)

It would take some outside assistance and funding to assure the companies of being able to cover the costs of artificially reducing ticket prices - but it's also the sort of thing that funders prefer to do - outreach and audience development.

Estelle also mentioned a while back a "youth pass" of a sort the French were using to prompt arts-going in the young. See a movie, get a cheap ticket to the Opera and so forth. The attractive thing about it to me was it was promoting "cross-training" for the audience, which I think is a very good idea.

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I just saw today that college students (with ID) can get $10 rush tickets to the Joffrey's Nutcracker. I don't know if this policy holds for the rest of the season. Students younger than college are specifically excluded (gee, I wonder why?).

Along these lines, Joffrey also sponspored a "Dancer's Night" at Nutcracker, when ballet students and their parents could get half-price tickets. They also were invited to attend a pre-performance presentation about ballet in general and the Nutcracker in particular. This was scheduled for a Wednesday night, which typically does not sell well, and I heard the house was full. This would be a great tactic for the rest of the season, as well, but I don't know if it's in the works.

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Right, Leigh, I remember Estelle's mentioning the "pass" concept...something like that linked to a arts "cross training" package is a really good idea...

Calliope, I am familiar with those "rush" tickets...but aren't they sold on the day of? And 4th ring is not the best introduction, in my opinion, unless they hand out binoculars with the tickets. ;) Sorry to the 4th Ring Society members - I know theirs is a beloved group but I would think that most uninitiated need to see the faces of the dancers...at least in the beginning, don't you?

Treefrog - that's quite something that the Wednesday night was full...what with it being a school night and all, I'm surprised!

So back to the reality of the financial side of things. As Leigh pointed out, people or organizations that have the major funds to give do prefer to work on audience development and outreach... It would be interesting to know if anyone has actually considered doing something inter arts...whether it be ballet/dance or ballet/dance/theater/opera/film?

I wish my pockets were deep enough to be able to fund something like this! Maybe, in New York City... if they actually do come through with the Lincoln Center refurbishing there might be a possibility.

P.S. Sorry to be so provincial with my ideas!

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BW, no need to apologize. We're all provincial -- we can only write about where we've been and what we see!

When Washington Ballet danced at Lisner Auditorium -- about a 1500 seat house -- they had a $1 student rush that was very popular. That meant that there was general admission -- no reserved seats.

Harder to do in a place like the State Theatre or an Opera House. But another reason to play unfamiliar houses -- and have a more informal repertory for those houses.

Another Washington example -- we used to have something called City Dance (back when Washington had 75 modern dance and ballet companies) and about 12 companies were chosen to do a weekend of performances -- 3 on each of four nights, say -- with a modern dance, ballet, and ethnic company sharing a program. It was very popular, brought in the most diverse audience you could ever hope to imagine, and the audience was generally supportive -- not a lot of "Oh, do I have to sit through THAT," but a real curiosity. Very expensive to do, and very time-consuming and difficult to coordinate, and I'm not sure that very many people crossed over after the event, but it was sure fun while it lasted!

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Boston's tradition of First Night (a New Year's celebration involving city-wide performances) is another example of that. I think New York has tried First Night, but it never caught on like Boston. There are dance festivals in NY where companies pool resources, but very few ballet companies seem to be represented (partly because there really aren't that many small ballet companies in NY who would fit into the same approximate organizational and budget profile as the other companies)

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NYCB usually sends a couple of dancers for First Night at Grand Central.

But, like you said, it's not really caught on. Too many crazy people standing in Times Square!

I'm not sure if the student rush tickets are the same day or not BW, I am guessing they are.

I wish they'd give away 5 of the SAB/NYCB standing room seats a night to regular students. At least they'd be able to be in the First Ring and see, usually you can find a seat too.

When you say inter arts, how do you mean?

I thought that was the role of "festivals"

Like the Lincoln Festival, you get one big mailing with everything listed, sometimes there's a theme too.

It would be nice, if say for Lincoln Center, you buy a subscription of 3 tickets. One for the Opera, the ballet and the Philharmonic.

An introduction to the arts, if you will.

I'd sign up for it and it would make a nice holiday gift!

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Our ticket prices are dramatically lower than typical today for a large ballet company. They are much closer to, say, the prices charged at the Joyce Theatre. It seems paradoxical to me, the larger the theatre, the more you pay per ticket.

The lower ticket prices is certainly a factor in bringing in a younger audience. How many families of four with parents in their mid-30's can afford a night out to the ballet at $95/ticket (that's $380 total)!

Anyway, costs are controlled across the board. We own the space, so production costs are dramatically lower. Costuming costs MUCH less than $80K. Only 16 dancers are involved in the repertory shows (about 24 for Nutcracker). Scenery is minimal (somewhat more elaborate for Nutcracker). And, sorry to say, we're not paid like unionized dancers either.

It works for what we do, but I don't think anyone would want to see a Giselle or Swan Lake done that way. It's more in line with the production stuff you see for modern dance.

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Calliope, I like the idea of a Lincoln Center subscription. There are people who are not necessarily ballet fans (or stritctly opera), but like to experience a tasting of culture. I like what the Lincoln Center Festival does with their subscription offer (which also includes a discount, which other subscriptions don't) and I've noticed that there is a younger crowd for the LCF. I sat next to four 25-30 year olds who, when they got their tickets to the latest avant garde LCF offering, decided to give the Kirov Ballet a shot too. They liked it. I hope they continue to go back to the ballet.

I also agree with Alexandra's comment about bringing the ballet to the audiences. People might find going to Lincoln Center daunting. So why not bring a little ballet to the Bronx or Queens or Trenton? Philadelphia Ballet goes on tours of its own state. NYCB used to have a program called Ballet Bridges. It was held on the same day in a few of the boroughs and the company was split up. They would perform a nice mix of excerpts from the rep and then do a Q&A. Afterwards, there was a table setup with the latest season's listings and a special ticket offer for up to 4 discounted orchestra seats to Midsummer Night's Dream.

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Calliope, by inter arts (or is it intra?), I basically meant a festival including multiple forms of performing arts - so I guess I was a bit redundant in my suggestion. :)

All of these ideas that have been proposed sound good... Washington sounds really with it in its approach - was that since Septime Webre's administration - and why did it end? Does it all hinge on finances and if it does or doesn't - how does one suggest these types of ideas to the ears that need to hear?

And Leigh, in NYC it does seem to me that there are a fair number of smaller companies ... although I'm sure you are much more aware ... but what if they came together in sort of a "review"? For example, I know there is either about to be, or already has been, something like this at City Center ... ostensibly so different promotors or ? can see different companies perform in order to book them for different programs in different cities. So why not do something like this and invite the general public too? Tickets would have to be cheaper.

The whole premise of bringing the ballet to the people is a great one... and maybe the schools/colleges are the places to do it, however in the elementary or preparatory grades it would be awfully helpful to include the parents because these kids need their parents to buy the tickets to other events and/or accompany them to the performances. Jacques D'Amboise's program is probably one of the best in this area, don't you think?

And as The Joyce was mentioned - they do (or used to) have a pretty neat deal...where one's child becomes a member and subscribes to a certain number of performances (at a reduced rate) and their parent can buy a ticket at a good price as well. On their website they offer a good deal for regular membership and tickets now: http://www.joyce.org/order00.html

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It really is a good idea BW. Someone has to organize it (it takes a TON of work to coordinate several independent companies in a joint performance. A good friend of mine did it for a choral festival. It was a full time job, and you'd be amazed at the level of detail you need - and what people don't tell you - like they're using props, or smoke, or they need special lighting, that they figure they can deal with when they get there. Multiply that by 40 ;) )

Before organizing it, there's got to be money, too. The bigger the venue (which is what people pool resources to get) the more costly. New York theaters are terrifyingly expensive. For example, the normal budget for doing a two-day three show run at John Jay is just under $20,000. John Jay is nowhere near the cost of the Joyce or several other houses in NY.

The multi-company booking event you're talking about is APAP - a meeting of the Association for Performing Arts Presenters. It's an expense to participate (What people have said is to really staff a booth properly and put on a performance will cost around 10K. This doesn't include the cost of creating marketing material.)

Tickets aren't always cheaper because expenses are less. Ticket prices are determined as much by a price point as actual cost. For a small company, Dance as Ever has decent production values - we perform in proscenium theaters, and we have sets and costumes specifically made for those ballets. I still can't charge much more than what a company performing in a studio showing without sets or costumes would charge. People just won't pay it.

For most of the arts, it makes sense to assume that ticket revenues help to minimize debt, not to make profit. To get a cheaper ticket price, there needs to be outside support, or a lot more attendance.

Regarding the NDI (d'Amboise's program) I wish it included seeing performances. It doesn't, it only involves the children taking dance lessons and putting on a performance themselves. I know it's great for the kids to do this, and I know this smacks of elitism, but I think they need to be shown what it looks like when it's done by professionals and not just themselves.

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Of course you're right about NDI and the need for these kids to see the real thing! That's not elitism - that's called common sense. I'm really surprised he hasn't included that aspect in his program. And thanks for that info about APAP...and I get your point about ticket prices... The reality of how much it costs to put on a performance is rather sobering, isn't it?

So, again, it comes down to getting the funding. And as for the organizing part, is there any sort of consortium that exists that might even be capable of this? And if not, does anyone think that the bigger names as in SFB, WSB, etc., have a development department that thinks along these lines anymore?

I guess this is the kind of thing arts administrators brain storm about in their spare moments. ;)

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There is a funny story about the initial season of Joffrey at City Center that was told by Alex Ewing, the former Chief Financial Officer of the old company.

It seems that the company would not have its option picked up by the City Center for Music and Art unless it showed a considerable(!) public interest. In the interest of public interest, Edith d'Addario, the then-Executive Secretary of the Joffrey School gave a student a $5 bill and told her to go buy a ticket at City Center. That was the top price then - $4.95! Then the student would go to the box office and buy a ticket, and the company would send another $5 bill back down to 10th St. and it would start all over again, and again, and again, and again! Pretty soon, the house was full of kids, who sometimes brought parents, but just as often friends, and while this sort of chicanery might not work today, with not-for-profit monitoring very tight, and it was a form of "papering the house", it worked!

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