When should the curtain rise?

December 21, 2007
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Right now, I’m a bit bleary from a night dominated not by sleep but instead by dropping my daughters, nieces and assorted friends off at a midnight screening of “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” and picking them up again at 2:30 a.m.
A last ditch effort to be crowned Father of the Year? Perhaps.

Whether I win or lose that honor, it did get me thinking about timing. Movie theaters can throw in an occasional midnight screening to make attending a film seem more like an event (it worked for these kids). But what about performing arts groups? How much room is there to experiment with the standard 8 p.m. time—or the 2:30 or 3 p.m. matinee, for that matter?

A number of years ago, I attended a performance in Cleveland by a Night Kitchen Theatre in Cleveland. Targeted at twentysomethings, the group acknowledged the fact that many clubgoers don’t even get out the door until after 10. With that in mind, it created a theatrical series with (if memory serves) an 11 p.m. start time and shows that ran about an hour and 20 minutes. Ticket prices reflected the fringe nature of the show.

Here, IndyFringe has shown during its summer festival that, given proper motivation and marketing, audiences can accept non-standard showtimes and durations. And ComedySportz sometimes mixes it up, showtime wise. Even the ISO will throw an occasional scheduling curve.

So should some of the new companies sprouting up here in Indy consider taking more chances with such things?

Your thoughts?
  • When I worked for Bloomington Playwrights Project a few years ago, we created a series of late night plays called the Dark Alley series. (I think they have retained the name of this series, even though they've moved to digs that aren't really on an alley anymore.) These were usually shorter pieces, with edgier and more experimental content and minimal tech requirements, which fit around whatever main show was being done. (There was only one stage, so the Dark Alley show couldn't be too intrusive.) Oh, and ticket prices were cheaper for DA shows.

    We also invited an IU-based sketch comedy group to do some of their performances in our space for late night shows, which was a great success.

    Offering content at odd hours offers lots of opportunities that arts organizations wouldn't otherwise have, like . . .

    - Extra revenue coming into the organization at times when otherwise nothing productive would be happening.

    - Wider opportunities to experiment with content that's farther outside the mainstram, or that you might not want to take a risk on within normal business hours (opportunity cost of lost regular patrons). Theatres could do more experimental shows, orchestras could try more avant-garde music and/or pop/rock crossover stuff, museums could shed the hush-hush atmosphere and cut loose a bit . . . etc. (IMA's doing this with their AMP offerings on Friday nights. I wonder how those are going.)

    - A chance to develop new or different audience/patron/customer bases. In the case of BPP, it was really cultivating the collegiate crowd - especially when the IU sketch comedy group came over. Getting people in to see one kind of content can cross-pollinate and generate interest in your other offerings.

    - A place for new talent within the organization or from outside to play around, grow and mature, and sharpen their skills for prime time . . . or develop their own niches that nobody had thought of before. (Young artists often have more talent than opportunity, especially when it comes to just getting into a venue.)

    Of course, the right circumstances need to be in place to make even trying odd-hour offerings worthwhile. (I'm talking mainly about late-night stuff here.) Demographics and logistics are big factors. At BPP, we obviously benefited from the proximity of lots of students and other university types hungry for offbeat entertainment, not to mention the general Bloomington boho population.

    Also, it helps to be close to the action, in terms of being in places where you can get collateral exposure just by being open when the nightlife hunters are out. You could make something like a late-night theatre series happen much more easily downtown or in Broad Ripple than in a suburb. (Castleton has potential, if anyone ever gets around to putting a theatre, museum, etc. around there. Just look at how successful the Music Mill has become in a short time.)

    I think it's a very good area for expansion and experimentation that might yield positive results for area arts organizations.
  • One of the first things I noticed about theater in Indy is that there are virtually no opportunities to double- or triple-up in a day. There is the occasional Saturday matinee, whcih can be follwed by a Saturday evening show, and there is the Alley on Sunday evenings that can follow a Sunday matinee. But these are rare. Once you have seen whatever is bring offered in the odd slot, it's a few weeks before something else is offered then.

    In Seattle I frequently saw four shows on a Saturday, and five were sometimes possible. This was not during the Fringe festival (when six or seven pieces could be seen in a day, because they were short). These were full two-act productions.

    Seattle has a large late-night scene, with shows starting at 2230 or 2300 (I prefered the latter, because they conflicted less with the 2000 mainstage shows). There were several ongoing series, with companies mounting 3-5 shows a year in the series - some using old TV scripts (like Twilight Zone), others of original work (Money and Run was up to ten or so episodes when I left, and Sex in Seattle was on episode 13). Shows would be offered Thursday-Sat at the late hour - after whatever was being put up on the mainstage at 2000 in the same venue (and after some cast members flew in from whatever they had been performing in at 2000 in some other theater). Occasionally a Thursday show woule be cancelled due to low attendance, but the Friday and Saturday shows virtually never were.

    In addition to straight plays, there are a monthly cabaret (first Friday) that has been going on for ten years or longer, and weekly improv shows in the late-night slot two nights a week.

    Some companies also perform a second time on Saturdays (in the late-night slot) so that other players can come see their shows - a prefrerance to working on Mondays for the same purpose.

    In 2005, a year in which I saw 236 performances, 28 of them were at 2200, 2230 or 2300 (and I was out of town 13 weekends, so I was averaging 0.7 late-night shows per week).
  • I remember TOTS having late performances, but that was another lifetime ago. Saw a very good performance of Love & Human Remains there that began at, I think, 11pm.

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