It is hot in the Jungle — the Jungle Theater.
Three shows have exceeded goals at the Minneapolis playhouse this year, and the recently closed “Urinetown” sold at 92 percent of capacity over nine weeks — “more than 100 percent when you count comps,” managing director Margo Gisselman said.
Attendance patterns over the past six to eight months in the Twin Cities reaffirm the showbiz notion that the show, not the economy, drives sales. Hot shows sell well and dogs die, no matter how hard you try to sell tickets.
“We don’t discount,” Gisselman said. “If you discount, subliminally, people wonder if the show is any good. You can’t make them come.”
The Jungle hasn’t had to discount, with “Venus in Fur” and “Deathtrap” joining “Urinetown” as hit shows. All three exceeded goals, with “Urinetown” doing $265,000 in sales — against a goal of $192,000.
Business at the Guthrie has been up and down. “The Primrose Path,” a new adaptation of an old Russian story, never found an audience, doing a notably low 38 percent capacity over 54 performances on the thrust stage. That’s roughly 400 people per show, in a theater designed to hold 1,100.
“Pride and Prejudice,” on the other hand, has benefited from title recognition and the presence of TV star Vincent Kartheiser to post a 97 percent capacity figure so far. It has been the brightest spot in a season that started disastrously last fall with the Christopher Hampton festival and saw low attendance for Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
“Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’ play about racial attitudes, played to 79 percent capacity over 66 performances in the 700-seat proscenium.
Hitting goals is relative
“Spunk” exceeded its goals for Penumbra Theatre last spring, with 68 percent capacity over 33 performances — a total of 5,736 patrons. Theater Latté Da came off its largest-selling show ever (“Aida”) with a letdown. “The Light in the Piazza” last spring sold 3,873 tickets (67 percent capacity) over 19 performances in the Ordway’s now-defunct McKnight Theatre.
“We were aggressive in our forecast,” projecting 77 percent capacity, said Latté Da managing director John Thew, “and we came up short.”
In comparison, Gisselman said the Jungle never forecasts above 70 percent, noting that, “You can hurt yourself.”
Latté Da did well with its “New Works” program — three shows in development each weekend. Nine performances at 199 seats each were nearly sold out in the Lab Theatre.
Park Square has found a winner each summer it has produced a “Sherlock Holmes” show, and this year was no different. Jeffrey Hatcher’s take on the detective in “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club” was the second highest-grossing show in the company’s history. Revenue on 7,974 tickets was $223,098, beating the target by 31 percent. “Stick Fly” was not so hot in the April-May slot with 63 percent capacity and sales figures that fell short of the goal. Park Square reports, though, that subscriptions for the 2013-14 season are tracking well ahead of last year.
Reporting attendance by percentage of capacity sometimes doesn’t reflect the whole story. History Theatre has a much-larger auditorium (570 seats) to fill than its colleagues in the middle range of Twin Cities companies. Even though “This Side of Paradise” did only 58 percent capacity over 22 performances, it still sold 7,273 tickets, which is a mere 700 fewer than “Sherlock” did in its great success at Park Square.
Different ideas of success
Mixed Blood Theatre is not so much concerned about total sales as it is finding new audiences with its Radical Hospitality program. Admission is free for Mixed Blood shows, with a reserve for those who want to pay for a guaranteed seat. “In the Time of Butterflies,” which ran last spring, did terrific business overall, but it perhaps crowded out Radical Hospitality customers, who made up only 42 percent of total attendance — compared with a season average of 55 percent. Jack Reuler, artistic director, said he’s encouraged by trends he sees in the second year of the program.
Children’s Theatre Company reported a good 2012-13 season, anticipating a surplus in the fiscal year. “Alice in Wonderland” sold 97 percent capacity last spring. “Give a Mouse a Cookie” did 73 percent in June and anecdotally declined slightly in July. Final figures were not available.
Among smaller theaters, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company didn’t do as well as anticipated with last spring’s “Handle With Care,” a comedy. The eight-show run of “Rachel Calof,” which just ended, exceeded projections.
“Sometimes my intuition is correct, and sometimes it’s not,” said Barbara Brooks, the company’s artistic director.
Season tickets are always the hedge against projections. At the Jungle, for example, Gisselman said they try to schedule the 2,200 season subscribers into the first couple of weeks of a run and then hope that audiences like a show enough to spread the word to individual buyers who fill the rest of the run with full-price tickets.
“We are having a lot of success right now,” she said, even though “Urinetown” will break even because of its large production costs. “The idea is to bring in more people and build traffic.”