It’s nothing new to hear audiences complain about the high price of theater tickets, as well they should.
But it gets your attention when a performer like Christopher Plummer, who has devoted so much of his career to the stage, weighs in on the issue, suggesting that the lack of affordable tickets is inhibiting attempts to broaden the audience for theater.
While interviewing Plummer recently about portraying John Barrymore in the film version of “Barrymore,’’ the William Luce stage drama for which Plummer won his second Tony Award, in 1997, I asked him to appraise the current state of classical acting. He touched on that issue only briefly before moving on to what he clearly views as a pressing concern for the theater, on Broadway and beyond.
“The old people who used to come don’t seem to be there anymore,’’ he said. “And the young: The young would be coming if the price was right. This is what is so disgraceful, that we do not have really, really low rates for children and youth.’’ Then, sounding for all the world like an average theatergoer, Plummer concluded vehemently: “It’s just too goddamned expensive!’’
Plummer’s views echoed those expressed last spring by another prominent octogenarian, Robert Brustein, the founding artistic director of the American Repertory Theater. During my interview with Brustein, he drew a direct link between stratospheric Broadway ticket prices and the waning of the “matinee-going audience’’ who “had an investment in the theater.’’ One consequence, he argued, has been a lack of dramas on Broadway stages by playwrights who possess Eugene O’Neill’s ability to penetrate “right to the heart of what was wrong with the American soul.’’
“Look at the price of the ticket,’’ Brustein exclaimed. “Four hundred and fifty dollars for a ticket? Who can afford that except a businessman taking out a prospective client? You know, for his entertainment? Or tourists, who want to really do up the town, and have a whoopee good time. I sound like a Puritan; I love good times. We create work that gives you a good time. But it’s got to have some deeper resonance. And if it doesn’t, we’re losing our soul.’’