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Bob Mondello in “Steal This Seat” (10/3) makes an effort to demonstrate that he is “on the side” of the cash-strapped theatergoer, but his discourse on inflated ticket prices in Washington ends up, in my opinion, defending the money-grubbing entrepreneurs and promoters whose contempt for theater audiences with less than some disposable income is legendary. It all makes one wonder if a person who makes his living as a drama critic is the right choice for writing objectively about the current state of the theater marketplace. After all, no one would suggest that a reporter on the Washington Post is qualified to hold forth on the state of journalism.
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No one in his right mind would claim that the performing arts should be an egalitarian enterprise when it comes to attracting paying customers. However, there is a point at which defending the current policy of “charge what the market will bear” becomes an exercise in snobbery. Mondello’s rationale for perpetuating class-consciousness in the audiences of the performing arts is to say, in effect, that the theatergoing “peasants” in this city (read: the “groundlings” who had to stand in the dirt in Shakespeare’s Globe theater) can have access to the same plays that the affluent have if they are willing to get out of the house and spend half a day scrounging around town to buy a ticket at a discount. One is hard put to think of anything more patronizing and insulting to people with fixed incomes who love the theater than this. Of course, the new class stratification and economic elitism in the areas of arts and entertainment are evident all around us, as witness the private club of affluent ticket holders who regularly fill Cooke Stadium while the sports purists who live on the edge financially are relegated to watching football games on their television set. That is just another variation on the groundlings syndrome as it is practiced in Washington theaters. Given the need for theater entrepreneurs to turn a profit, it is outrageous that a cash-strapped theater lover cannot walk up to a box office and buy a ticket at a reasonable price. Oddly, this deplorable situation does not seem to bother Mondello.
On another point, Mondello wrongly assumes that the many small, alternative, not-for-profit theaters in this town provide a good bargain for those who cannot afford the inflated ticket prices at the Kennedy Center or the National Theatre. What Mondello overlooks is that for his $15 ticket to one of these theaters the patron must put up with a lot of lousy theater environments resembling huge barns or warehouses with uncomfortable chairs and zero acoustics quality. I, for one, would not pay even a minimal amount of money to see Hamlet or Oedipus Rex in one of these depressing venues.
My suggestion to Mondello is that he look at what is happening to the culture with the same detachment that he assumes in reviewing plays. At least such an approach might steer him away from an inclination to defend the status quo of theater economics.