I'm not going to name specific persons, places,or things, in order to preserve the innocence of those involved lol.
Today a theater group that I work with put on a free preview presentation of a production opening this weekend. After the preview, which the audience received very well, the audience was offered the option of buying "Pay What You Can" tickets for a full presentation of the show.
As a theater administrator and actor, let me tell you what I believe Pay What You Can is supposed to be. I believe that you are to pay what you can, or what you feel the show is valued at. This is generally between $5 and $20. Now, Pay What You Can is meant to make the arts accessible. It is understood that people are living with different means so people will pay a huge variant based on the income they have to give.
In the instance of what I experienced today, audience members opted to pay $1 per ticket. After enjoying the preview, being engaged in a talk-back, and hurling accolades, they opted to pay $1 to see the full performance. Sure, there where people who could probably only afford $1. But there were others, who at the opportunity to name their own price, they chose the lowest possible. People who requested change from a $10 bill, so they could pay $2 for two tickets. People who pulled a single dollar bill out of their purse packed with bills.
For some reason the live arts are not seen with the same value as commercial entertainment. This play is very influential when it comes to the history of Black literature and the Black experience, yet the same people who I would bet money would shell out $17 for a Tyler Perry ticket, opted to pay $1 instead of really supporting their local Black actors and creators doing something truly positive on stage... and during Black History Month!
As a worker in the non-profit arts it is always thrown around that a struggle is that people don't have money to pay to support the arts and buy tickets. THIS IS A LIE. The truth is people don't VALUE the live arts the same way they value commercial entertainment. They will easily pay $100 for a concert ticket, but scoff at the idea of paying $25 to go into a theater. I don't feel like money spent on the arts is "disposable income," I feel like it is making an investment into the culture or the world, and the stories of the past, and an influence on the future.
Stage actors work HARD, and so do the directors, and lighting and sound designers. They don't have the glitz and glamour of your favorite TV show, but they work just as hard, and should be valued as such.
This makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me ashamed. Most of all, and probably most important, it makes me really want to do all I can to support the art that I feel has value, and the things I feel have value even outside of the arts.