It’s a great time for Jobsite right now. We’re in the final 2 shows of our to-date very successful 10th anniversary season. We’re already selling season tickets for a 2009-10 season we’re stoked on. Rabbit Hole is bringing the house down nightly and has earned three stellar reviews. Hell, we simply survived Inishmore. We have a multitude of side projects coming up including a new LOL event and a new night of Short Comings.
We’re still working hard, despite all the crazy budgetary session hoo haa, on trying to get some grants in from the state and federal levels as well as funding from sources like the NEA and TCG. You all shocked us during Inishmore by opening your wallets to us to ensure we could pay for that expensive show and continue producing at a comfortable level.
Things are coming along, to be sure. Many other theaters in the country have not been so lucky. While others fold and cut back, we’re expanding. That’s certainly good news.
Yet the greatest mystery to us still is how any particular show is going to sell and how we can capitalize on what we have and translate that into getting butts in seats.
That’s our best measuring-stick as to how we’re doing – ticket sales. It’s also our most critical revenue stream. We don’t have the base of donors and cash sponsors many others rely on to weather sales.
Sometimes it’s easy selling tickets. It seems we barely had to do anything for Picasso to sell out 17 straight performances. Other times it isn’t so easy. Inishmore, for example, was a well-chronicled struggle despite the great reviews and how much the people who came loved the show.
Most often though, it’s somewhere in between. Ten years hasn’t quite given us a perfect formula. From our best guesses at this point I think it’s safe to say that plays about famous figures (Dracula, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Gorey Stories) do pretty damned well, the best of all, actually. Comedies like the (abridged) series do great. They may not sell like those titles listed before, but they also cost a fraction to produce. Super-classics, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead are big winners. Past that, it’s like throwing a dart wearing a blindfold half the time.
Where does it get the hardest to sell? Subject matter, sure-fire no lyin’. We struggled to explain The Boys Next Door was yes – a comedy about developmentally challenged adults living together and no, it was not making fun of them or horribly depressing. We had to get past that The Pillowman was about a child-murderer and that Blackbird was at the core a story about pedophilia. Right now we have a show about the death of a child. That can be hard to pitch. So we try to explain not only what something is about but why it’s about that, what it means and what an audience is going to get out of it.
Still, we offer a wide pallet and it’s not like we just do American classics or light comedies.
So a lot of that is on us. We don’t have the strictest of identities when it comes to play selection. That’s a big reason I balked so much at the “alternative” or “avant-garde” labels that were tossed at us for so long. Good news there is I don’t hear those words so often anymore.
Jobsite is about making great theater. Plain and simple. Theater that speaks to this body of artists we’ve built around us and that we believe speaks to those around us in this community. Theater that’s challenging – for us and for an audience. Theater that is relevant, immediate, impacting.
So that might come in the form of a play like Rabbit Hole, which we certainly believe. It might come in the form of early twentieth century feminist expressionism (ok, so I just sometimes like to whip out the college vernacular) like Machinal. It might just come in the form of asking folks to come down and get their laugh on.
We love our variety, and so do the converted. Those loyal subscribers and season ticket holders who have just given in and enjoy taking the ride Jobsite puts in front of them. They know how hard we work and what we’re capable of.
And there’s the challenge – how to get more folks to trust this (I hedge to even use this bit of marketing-speak) ‘brand’ that is Jobsite.
Think about it – when you say a Kevin Smith film or a Akira Kurosawa film or the Alvin Ailey Dance Company or a Paul McCartney album – you don’t really get too many people hemming and hawing over what the content is or the piece is about. Folks get stoked on the identity that they trust and just want to see what they’ve come up with now.
We’re well aware we have to work at that. We have an awesome core of season ticket holders and single ticket buyers. They are frankly one of the biggest reasons we’ve made it this far. We just know we can do better. We have to do better.
When a group of artists like we have right now with Rabbit Hole are all living comfortably (comfortably, mind you, not extravagantly) on what we can pay them and this company is fully staffed with our artists in administrative positions as well and this becomes a fully-sustainable organism, then … well, ok, then we set new goals.
But those are the goals in front of me right now.
Every open seat is a lost opportunity. It’s not just lost revenue. It’s one less chance we have of making an impression on someone. It’s one less chance we have to share the work we’ve done. It’s one less chance we have to maybe make it easier the next time we have a show on, because someone didn’t see it and now they can’t just say “oh, it’s a Jobsite show, I bet it’s good …”
So, all I can do for now is make sure we’re doing good work – which we are. Rabbit Hole is a triumph, and I mean that in every sense. Now we just need the folks to come see it. To fill every seat, to give us a chance.
If you’re reading this, I hope you can make a sincere effort to stop by. I promise you it’s more than worthy. If you’re on of “the choir” – I hope you might be able to pass us on to someone else.
Like I said during Inishmore – going to the theater should NEVER, EVER be about obligation or guilt. It should be about the experience. To sit and have a great reckoning in a little room or to let go of the week and your life and just laugh or share an experience with someone close to you as well as people you may never see again. It’s hard sometimes as a producer to not hit that panic button and talk about bottom line and how you need these sales to not fold, but that totally undercuts why people should REALLY be going to the theater. There is nothing like great theater. Not movies, not TV, not a rock concert, not a ballet, not a book. We’ve got a hell of an example up on stage right now. Come check it out.
It’s a good time for Jobsite, still, I see better times ahead. We just have to reach a little harder and keep flexing those muscles. I believe that hard work is rewarded, and so far – it has been.