Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pick a Pocket or Two

At first, my students were shocked at the idea of charging admission to shows.

We had a talk about it back in August - I wanted to charge people for tickets to the class productions, $2 or $3, for example. The students protested vehemently - "No one will come!" "No one wants to pay to see our shows!" "We've never charged people before!"

And there lies the crux of the issue. I was surprised last year when I first heard that the teacher before me didn't charge admission. I couldn't figure out how she stayed in the black, given all of the expenses putting on even a basic show accrues. Then I looked over her budget records and discovered that she did it by not paying royalties and by copying the scripts on the school's machine.


Well, that was going to stop. I didn't tell the students about my discovery, but I did tell them that if people get something for free, they respect it less than if they have to pay for it.

They didn't believe me.

We came up with a compromise - a mandatory donation, of sorts. I and a student helper sat at the door Thursday night and, as people came in, we asked them to "Pay what you choose, but do pay something."

One kid paid with a paperclip. It was all he had on him.

One gentleman handed me a $20 and refused change, telling me to put it towards the drama program.

I'd guess the average was $3 a person in the end - about what I expected.

When I shut down the ticket table 10 minutes into the show, I counted up the money. For an audience of about 80 people, we had taken in $181. I had spent about $60 on props for the show, so that gave us a profit of $121. The students who didn't appear in Act 2 were standing at the back of the theater, leaning on the half-wall at the back of the "booth" to watch the show. I showed them the sticky note with the totals written on it. (I believe in transparency with this kind of thing - they need to know about the business of theater as much as the art.) They were astounded.

And it might have gone to their heads a little. After the show, they, per tradition, ran back around to the lobby to greet their audience. I powered down and locked up the sound and light systems, then followed them to the lobby. There I found my little cast of 9, swaying with arms draped across each others' shoulders, swinging a rousing rendition of "Old MacDonald" while Jack passed Dr. Chasuble's parson hat around the crowd for "tips and donations." When they ran out of lyrics, they broke into improv games, determined to entertain the crowd for more money.

We'll have a talk tomorrow about decorum and such.

It was a success, though. Thursday night was a little precarious with one actor who failed to show up altogether. He had been flaky in the (albeit optional) after-school rehearsals, so the actors already knew how to carry on without him, unfortunately (it was Lord Bracknell, a part I created for the class. He didn't have any lines, but he did have some blocking and some interactions with Lady Bracknell that cued other things in the show).

The next morning, as we warmed up for the in-school performance, one of the girls told me with a worried look, "Don't get too mad at Zack".

"Why not?" I asked, wondering if she had heard something I hadn't.

"We just don't know why he didn't show. Maybe something bad happened. You should listen to him before you yell at him."

"Oh, Ms. W- doesn't yell," Kalen said solemnly, "She plays mindgames with you."

Reassured that the class was looking out for each other and wouldn't punish Zack socially without hearing him out first (and also beaming inwardly at their perception of my classroom management), I nodded my assent to 'play it cool.'

Sure enough, five minutes before we opened house and 25 minutes past call, Zack strolled down the aisle of the auditorium, grinning and waving at all of us.

"You're late, Zack," I said, calmly.

"Am I?" he said, with a rather goofy look.

"Yes," I said, letting a bit more iciness into my tone. "You've got five minutes to get into costume. Skedaddle."

To his credit, he picked up speed and headed for the costume room. He reemerged a few minutes later, interrupting the last of our warm-ups to tell me he couldn't find his jacket. "I'm sorry to hear that, but it's not my problem," I responded, then turned back to the cast to finish what we were doing. He found his jacket.

Later, when we opened house, I was mending a hat in the prop room when I heard a conversation just outside the door.

"Zack, man, where were you last night?"

I could hear the shrug in his response: "Home."

"Why? Why didn't you show up for the play? I could have given you a ride."

"I didn't feel like coming."

"Well, that's pretty shitty man," the student said, with a surprising amount of compassion in his tone.

And, indeed, it is.

The in-school performance took place during the class period. I had emailed the faculty inviting them a few weeks ago and asking them to RSVP. About 5 teachers had, which would have given us a decent audience. I think a lot of teachers threw in the towel, though, between it being Friday and the week before mid-term exams, because the classes just kept coming and coming. I had to get up on stage and ask people to move to the middle/walls to open up aisle seats, and several teachers grabbed chairs from the band room to line the back wall. The house was packed.

The kids did fine. Zach (other Zach) stole the show, as I expected, with his appearance and smoker's voice as Mariah the maid. He was originally Lane the Butler, and I had switched Merriman's (the other butler) gender to create a dumb-show love-triangle for between acts. When the girl playing Mariah/Merriman was suspended for two weeks for selling drugs, I asked Zach to take on the part. I had suggested making Merriman Lane's evil twin (with a mustache, of course), but that was before Zach found the French maid outfit in our costume shop. A guy in drag is such an easy gag, but, as my dad quotes, no one has ever gone broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

Half of the kids told me post-show how they couldn't wait for their next production (Macbeth), while the other half just wanted to keep doing Earnest. The freshman who saw the show declared in the Intro to Drama class later that day that seeing the show just made them more nervous about their own production in three weeks.

"That's great!" I said to all of those comments.

And it is.

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