Saturday, October 10, 2015

Good, Better, Best

I went out for a few drinks with my friend again the other night. You may remember him, he's the one with the idea of selling no show seats again to increase Broadway show revenue. He's got lots of "ideas", apparently. I prefer to meet him in a public setting.

We were chatting about world events, but as he is wont to do, the conversation eventually turned to Broadway.

"Wow, how about the commodities markets, eh?" he sniffed. "The China chaos is doing a number on everything, huh? Oil, coal, metals, it could be years before things get back to normal. Zero inflation!" I agreed, but had nothing to add. Like most things, commodities are cyclical. Up and down, ebb and flow.

So before the world were to end, I asked my friend what he'd have to drink. He wanted Chivas Regal, and he reminded me it was my turn to buy. Though I didn't exactly remember it being my turn, I didn't make a fuss. It was no big deal. For me, the house brand would do.

"Hey, since we're talking commodities, have you ever noticed how much Broadway, as a whole, has become commodified?" he asked. I was anxious to have my first sip, but I answered, "How so?"

"Well, for years Broadway has been catering to a lower and lower level, hasn't it? They've turned away from the classic New York audience in favor of tourists, and shows that will play well in Peoria, and the rest of the road, right? Jukebox musicals, English imports, star vehicles, versions of movies, revivals, and Disney. Very little challenging fare, wouldn't you agree?" He was able to say the longest sentences in one breath. I was and continue to be amazed by his talent.

I countered, "That may be partially true, but what about a show like Fun Home, or Hamilton? They seem fresh, no?" Shorter sentences and longer sips is my motto.

"Some may say so. Not me. The country at large has finally come to terms with gay issues and themes. I think Broadway is trailing on this. And now we have our second successful rap musical. Doesn't seem very fresh to me." I think he gets argumentative when he drinks. He was on his second one now. He can really put it away.

"You are certainly entitled to your opinion, my good man." I tried to lighted up the moment. His eyes had that burning look I know so well.

"You need to look at the big picture. That's where you'll find the truth!"


"That Broadway is, in fact, a commodity. Look, these shows are basically interchangeable. And, the proof of my theory lies in how these shows are sold." He sounded like he was about to climb up on a soapbox, so I took another sip of my drink.

"Take, for just one example, the pricing of tickets. These days, you have a choice of "Premium", "Mid-Premium" and, for lack of a better term, "Regular". Does this scheme ring a bell?" I didn't realize there'd be questions, I could only muster a slurping sound, as I has the last drops of my drink in my throat. I ordered us another round.

"Don't be a shmoe! This is easy. We were talking commodities just now." My eyes darted back and forth, unclear about what he was getting at.

"Gasoline, you knucklehead! What do you see when you fill up your car? A gas pump that offers "Regular", "Plus", and "Premium". Why do you think they do that? Especially when the overwhelming number of cars on the road today are recommended to use "Regular" by their manufacturers? We know that there is no material difference in gasoline among brands, gas is gas. Yet, space is made for these higher priced formulations to appeal to ignorant drivers that think higher priced gas is somehow superior. It's a complete joke, and yet, it continues." He made me feel special, as I always buy off brand gas. I knew better! The house Scotch tasted muy fine.

"Well, you are right about gasoline, but Broadway shows? What's the connection?" I wondered.

"It's the same con! Good, better, best, be it gasoline or Broadway tickets, just allows customers to pay more for the same commodity. It's a windfall for the oil companies, and it's the same on Broadway. What makes seats in a Broadway theater worth more than adjacent seats? These theaters are a hundred years old. Did the world change fifteen years ago and the physical properties of these seats change? No. Only how they were sold. Customers have always overpaid for gas, now they happily overpay for theater tickets! It's been a boon to Broadway!" I couldn't turn away from the little bit of spit in the corner of his mouth.

"So, is it a bad thing?" I knew he'd have a ready answer.

"Bad? Hell no! It's brought Broadway into the Golden Age! Who cares about customers? They want gas, or Broadway, they gotta pay up! That's success, doncha know!"  He almost, but not quite, slurred his speech.

I couldn't argue his reasoning, but I wondered, "If there's no difference in gas, or Broadway shows, apparently, what does it all mean?"

"It means that consumers are stupid, that's all. it's just a basic fact of life. And, those that understand that can exploit that fact." He was calming down now. Five Chivas Regals will do that to you.

I was very convinced, but very drunk too. Maybe it was the crappy low end house Scotch. Next time I'll spring for a mid-line brand.

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