Do audiences care if a Broadway show is in previews? Survey says . . .

Oh Spidey . . . you just can’t keep your name out of the papers.

And, based on the 1.8 million bucks you did over Christmas week, I bet you’re starting not to care.

The latest bit of publicity about the uber-musical hit the wires late last week when Bill de Blasio, a NYC public advocate, sent a letter to the Department of Consumer Affairs stating that Spidey was in violation of the law, due to its extended preview period, and their alleged failure to disclose this information to ticket buyers.

While part of me believes Mr. de Blasio is looking to catch a ride on the Spider-Man publicity train in order to further his own political ambitions, this is not the first time this argument has been made (anyone remember Nick and Nora?).

This bit of news started an internal debate between the two sides of my mind.  Do we have to do more to distinguish between opening and previews?  Should we charge less?  And then came the big question . . . do consumers really care?

I formulated my own opinion (surprise, surprise) and then realized that if I really wanted to find out if consumers cared, I needed to talk to consumers!

So, I sent my trusty weekend intern Jason out into the cold to chat with folks in the TKTS line and find out!

We asked 100 US residents if knowing that a show was in previews made them more inclined to see it, less inclined to see it, or if it made no difference at all.

Ready to see the results?

Not so fast.  Before I reveal to you what they thought . . . what do you THINK they thought?  Come on, imagine this is The Price is Right and you have to guess before you see how much that box of Wheaties actually costs.

What percentage was more inclined?  Less inclined?  And what percentage didn’t give a flying superhero.

Here are the results:

12% were MORE inclined to see a show in previews.
18% were LESS inclined to see a show in previews.
70% didn’t care either way.

Surprising? Not to me.

Now, as with any survey, you have to take into account the group sampled (and the size of that group).  A TKTS audience may be only in town for a short period of time, and have a totally different criteria for making that choice.  A NYC resident theatergoer may want to wait until a show is fully cooked before taking a bite.  Admittedly this was a down-and-dirty survey.

But it still says something.

The audience just wants in.

However, the bigger challenge for the Producer is that if your show is a bit “rare” during previews, you should be more concerned about what the audience is saying on the way out of the theater.  Because if they don’t care that the show is in previews, then they’re not going to cut you any slack for it either.  For them, it’s just there . . . so you better be prepared to give them the goods.

We love talking to the folks on line at the TKTS booth.  Wanna see what we’ve asked them in the past?

– Read the results of our survey of WHO is actually standing in that line here.

– Read the results of our “When I say Broadway, you say . . . ” survey here.

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Superhero spotted on 42nd Street.

Well, it happened.

After years of speculation and millions and millions of dollars, it finally happened.

Spider-Man opened last night on Broadway.

You’re probably thinking I got that last sentence wrong.  That I should have said Spider-Man started previews last night.

But with the amount of ink from new and old media the show got last night and this morning, you might as well call it opened.

The chat boards lit up during the show last night (I bet all of the sites saw a surge in traffic), as did Twitter and the blogosphere.  The traditional media caught up this morning, with Spidey snagging the front page of the NY Post (right out of one of those scenes from a super hero movie where the papers hit the streets with a headline that screams, “Spider-Man saves the day!”) as well articles in the NY Times, The Journal, and many, many others.

And while the big publications aren’t reviewing the show, because they “can’t”, they are letting audience members do it for them, with quotes like “parts of it were really exciting” and “the story-telling is really unclear.”

Fair?  Unfair?

As a Producer, I might be frustrated with any negative coverage judging a first preview before my cake was fully cooked.  But when you build the biggest baked good in the world, you gotta expect it.

And hey – you can always take solace in the fact that what these publications are doing, without knowing it, is putting another nail in their own reviewers’ coffins.  By putting so much attention on the show up front, many audience members will have made up their minds by the time the reviews come out.  (When My First Time had a feature article in the NY Times, I sold soooo many more tickets than I sold when the review came out – and a bunch of people called me and congratulated me on the “review”.)

But I will say this to the press, and to all the chatters out there that have been sharpening their claws for the past several weeks . . . write what you will.  But remember, what they are doing down there is unprecedented.  They are building the musical version of the Great Wall of China.  (Which, by the way, I’m sure had a bunch of cost overruns and was also way behind schedule).

More important that precedent, is that they are employing an awful lot of people.

We should all be pulling for their success.  Explorers of uncharted territory may not always find what they are looking for (remember what Columbus was looking for), and many die in the process, but they always stumble upon something which provides new opportunities for all the rest of us.

Stay the course, Spidey.  Some of us are rooting for ya.

Now the big question is . . . will they be publishing their grosses???

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