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June 14, 2007


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Paul Rekk

Applicable? Eh... kinda.

It's true that Chicago is already full of affordable theatre, but that's what makes Signature's initiative so enticing to audiences: they're providing affordable theatre at a major Off-Broadway house, a subset where affordable theatre is practically unheard of.

Now if Steppenwolf or the Goodman took up a similar pricing strategy, it'd be huuuge news. But a $20 show most other places in Chicago? Move along folks, nothing to see here.

It's less a matter of making Chicago audiences aware of how much cheap theatre they have at their fingertips and more a matter of making them aware of how amazing that really is (not to mention how much of a factor they are in keeping it that way).

Don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, indeed.


Maybe it has to do with the fact that there are so many theatres in Chicago right now. The market is watered-down, which creates more theatres than patrons. It’s funny, because if you draw 20 people a night, you’re doing pretty well. But in a 70 seat theatre that’s depressing. Especially over a six week run. And some performances you have less than 10. The reality is when you consider the price of a movie and such, theatre in Chicago is quite reasonable, so maybe there is too much of it, which can leave all those small theatres fighting for the scraps from the big table.

And it might be possible that an audience member that goes to Steppenwolf and the Goodman have no interest in scrappy storefront theatre regardless of how cheap it is, or how creative and exciting it is. Once they get all those production values they never go back.

Sometimes it seems you have to sell this type of audience on a storefront experience because they aren’t used to the intimacy and vibrancy of the event. The larger theatres create a whole different experience. Is it possible the two don’t really mix and patrons from one don’t exactly fit with the other? It’s hard to say. I know I like both. And hey, I would rather see three $15 shows than one $60 any day.

Sean at Janus


Some companies are doing all they can to try to use myspace, facebook, youtube et al. to help with marketing. I don't know the results for everyone and it may be too early to tell. But few have the cash to market and track the marketing for quantifiable results--or the knowledge to do so. So at times it can be like mailing postcards for a lot of companies. Throw 'em out and hope they bring people back.

A quick look through Chris Jones' blog shows that some of the problem may stem from the belief that a non-equity storefront production is inherently shoddy and inferior to a show at a house like the Goodman that can have a $25,000 set. There are a lot of people who go to shows all the time who won't see a small non-equity show for that reason.

I don't see smaller shows as inferior--though there is a lot of bad (and great) work on all levels. But Starbucks doesn't have a store on every block because the coffee tastes good.

Somehow the image of storefronts needs to change in a lot of minds to reflect the quality that is already there, before audience patterns will shift.


I'll keep saying this, Kris. I think you're spinning your wheels to compare New York theatre to Chicago theatre. It's an entirely different landscape. ESPECIALLY where houses like Signature are concerned. Though very exciting that they're having Mee next season.

Kris Vire

Meg, of course Signature is a completely different animal from Chicago storefront theater; Paul and Sean are right that it's more comparable to Steppenwolf or the Goodman. I just wonder if there are any lessons that Chicago theaters could take from this example; perhaps not.


I think there are lessons that can be learned that can apply to Chicago. I wonder if image has more to do with it than price? If there's a way to get the word out about everyone/the scene? I guess it'd be more a question of how--what ideas are out there?

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  • Kris Vire
    I write about theater for Time Out Chicago. I write more about it here.

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