It was a long while since I had seen my Broadway friend, so after many attempts to set up a lunch date, we finally found a suitable time. I think it was my offer to pay that got things moving along.
"Hey, how ya doin'?" he called out to me from across the way. He was about a half hour late, but that was early for him. "I'm doin' fine," I replied, knowing that despite his feeble attempts at small talk, he didn't really want to know. We go way back, and organ recitals just aren't part of our relationship.
After ordering the most expensive items on the menu, and a bit more chit chat, he mentioned what I knew he'd be anxious to talk about.
"Did you see that Times article about how the producers of Hamilton and Harry Potter are crying the blues about scalped tickets? Are these guys for real?" I think I knew where this was headed.
"You mean how they are concerned that an out-of-control secondary market hurts people trying to get tickets to popular shows? That and the fact that the excess price on those tickets is lost to the cast and creatives of the shows? Those blues?" I knew I was baiting him. I felt a tinge of guilt, but it's always fun to get under his skin.
"Oh jeez," he murmured. "You really are kind of a putz, aren't you?" I wasn't offended, I've been called worse.
"These producers are putting on such a con, and you have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker!" Our waiter was just now bringing our order.
"A con? What's wrong with trying to help the little guy? You know nobody can touch Hamilton for face value for many months. With Harry Potter coming it could be the same or worse. At least somebody is trying to figure something out." I'm not sure if I fully believed it myself, but I love to watch my friend go off on a rant. He looked like he was gagging on his food as he tried to reply.
"How can you be so pathetically naive? That's not how the system works!" He wasn't shouting, but he was speaking with his usual amped intensity. "It's all P.R.! Nothing more! There's always bad publicity when regular folk can't get tickets, but who benefits? Why, for goodness sake, it's the producers! What makes a tight ticket? Do you have any idea?"
The train had left the station and was picking up steam. Tactically, my best option was to step aside and let it roll.
"Come on now! Don't be dumb with me now! It's the scalpers and speculators who scoop up all the seats, that's what makes a tight ticket! Since 9/11, who buys tickets in advance anymore? Not enough people to matter. How do you think a Hamilton or a Book of Morman, or Harry Potter can possibly build up their stratospheric advances without the brokers digging out all the seats? And what's more, these days they are buying out months of premium-priced tickets to boot!" He started to finally chew his food, so it was safe for me to answer.
"Well, that may be true, but what about seats that go for thousands of dollars each? Is it fair that the shows don't get a piece of that?" A little logic could go a long way, even in emotional arguments, I thought.
He still had food in his mouth, and when he spoke, he sprayed. "Fair??? This is business, my friend. There is no "fair" in business. Besides, what spurs demand more than crazy headlines about crazy prices along with a lack of supply? Consider those transactions loss-leaders. It helps the show to keep selling those voluminous premium-priced tickets, which by the way, aren't they going for $849 now? Ha! I'm sure a lot of little guys are buying up those!! What a joke!!"
He was always very passionate when we spoke about "the business" of Broadway. It was almost as entertaining as a show itself. Still, I needed to prod him with more opposing ideas.
"Well, everyone seems to agree that scalping is bad, right? The producers and politicians are on the right side of this, aren't they?" I covered up my plate, I didn't want any of his food or spittle to find it's way across the table.
"Hahaha!!! You CAN'T be that dumb!! You're just pulling my chain now, aren't you? AREN'T you?"
He was chewing and laughing but there was a steely stare from his eyes.
"Well," I didn't really know which way to go now. I didn't want to cause a scene in the restaurant. " it would be nice if all the seats didn't wind up on the secondary market, wouldn't it? I mean, in general terms." It was time to be more conciliatory. I didn't really want him to have a stroke.
"Nice??, yeah, I guess it would be nice. It would be nice if we didn't have a lunatic in the White House. It would be nice if there were peace and harmony in the world. It would be nice if everyone that had a pit bull had a Pekinese instead. It would be real nice. Don't hold your breath! Nice doesn't cut it in the real world, my friend!" He seemed to hit all the major bullet points. My eyes began to lower.
"Look," he continued, "here's the deal. It's a smokescreen. The producers profit from the secondary market. Hell, Ticketmaster runs its own secondary market. Could that happen without the producers assent? Could Stub Hub continue without funnelling lobbying cash to politicians? More than all this though, could Hamilton have a weekly gross of over three million dollars, without the existence of this entire infrastructure? It ain't nice, but it sure is profitable." The next table had stopped what they were doing and were listening to him, nodding their heads. I wondered if they were Broadway investors? My friend seemed like he was summing up for the jury. I knew what the verdict would be.
"Look, I gotta run. I'll take the rest of this to go. Are you finishing yours? If not, put it on my plate, I'll have it later." I don't even know what I had ordered. "Sure, take it all, that's fine."
As he got up to leave, the check arrived. "We should do this again sometime," he said as he scooped up his doggy bag and headed out. Before he got to the door, he turned to me and said, "Don't forget, Show Business is all about putting on the show."
I paid the check, left the tip, and walked out. But, I was still kind of hungry.