My summer has been super busy — designing, home improvement and of course prepping my teaching for next year. My goal to write more has been put on the back shelf again. BUT…. I have something I want to write about.
My last post was about what happend at Arcadia at ACT. For regular readers of this blog who missed what happened, Carey Perloff responded to my blog. What happend at ACT that day (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read the previous blog post), was a bad experience — but one that showed what kind of folks ACT is made of. Aside from commenting on my blog, and having ACT staff respond to twitter and other social media, ACT wrote a very nice letter to the audience members in the theatre that day. The letter was a heart felt apology which indicated that they were reviewing policies and procedures and a generous offer to those people affected by what happened. ACT admitted what went wrong, and is looking to not let it happen again. I don’t think I can ask more. (I could be grumpy and say I wish it hadn’t happened in the first place — but that would be petty and pointless.)
I would like to contrast that with another theatre company. In this case for many many reasons, I’m not going to name names (although those who know me will know exactly what company I am discussing).
Last season a local company did a production of one of my favorite shows, Candide. (I know the show has lots of detractors, but I get to like the shows I like.) The production, though advertised to be a full production, was more of a glorified concert staging. The program listed with the list of other designers “Scenery constructed by” instead of “scenery designed by.” And looking at the set, i can see why. The set was a large platform, and for most of the show it was not used in a particularly interesting manner (the one ocean voyage being a notable exception). This was not the biggest tragedy of the show. The biggest tragedy was the orchestra. An opera company chose to use the reduced orchestrations (for 13 players) instead of Leonard Bernstein (the composer) and Hershy Kay’s original orchestrations (for an orchestra of 20+Members). For next season the announced another contemporary opera. (In fact, I would call this show a modern musical, but my husband, the opera buff, declares it an opera, so I’ll defer to him). This is another show with two prominent orchestrations associated with it– the original 22 member orchestration, or the more recent touring production’s reduction to 14. I need to confess I’m a bit of a nut about live professional orchestrations and knowing about different orchestrations of shows. Due to the orchestra I was grumpy through all of Candide from the thin overture to the the weak sound just before the glorious a capella section at the end of the show. (The vocals were great, so I at least left on a sort of happy note.)
I recieved an email about this company’s season with the announcement of what was coming. I decided before buying tix, I would write and ask about the orchestra. I received a prompt response, but I wasn’t thrilled with it. The first thing was a defense of why they choose to use the smaller orchestra for their production (the full orchestra wouldn’t fit on the stage — I’ll discuss that more below), before assuring me that they would use a larger orchestra for the upcoming opera. I noted that they did not specify which orchestration the would use — and even the smaller orchestration would be a bit larger than the measly 13 used for Candide.
The thing is, because they were not clear about what orchestra they are using, and I was so unhappy about their last show, I am just not going to buy tickets. Questions from audiences should be respected and answered well. I would rather have waited a couple of days for a response with the real answer, than the “we will use a larger orchestra.” It makes the company sound either deceitful or uninformed. Neither is an attractive quality.
OK, let me quickly discuss the argument that the orchestra wouldn’t fit on the stage. This company typically rents their scenic and costume designs. Again, I understand that this is not unusual for opera companies — but I do prefer shows that are designed for the theatre they are playing in and for the audience they are playing for. For Candid, the company commissioned the set to be built. If the set was properly designed, I suspect the full orchestra could have been seated, and had room for interesting staging. (To see how to cram a huge orchestra onto a stage, and have great space for musical staging in a concert like presentation, look at the video of the San Francisco production of Sweeney Todd In Concert with George Hearn and Patti LuPone — which does it fabulously!) I suspect the true reason for the small orchestra was the cost. Like too many productions lately, the place they think they can save money is on the orchestra. The other place they think they can help the bottom line is by not letting the audience know what really is going on.
Good customer service is important. Good theatre companies know about it. ACT knows about it, and that is why I have renewed our subscription there. The opera company — I’m not so sure about yet.