From the publisher...

A.S. Waterman

February 2009

The Positive Side of "No"

As I drafted this month's editorial, I felt like I was back in New England. Snow ... ice ... wind ... unfriendly weather wreaking havoc with our plans. Many of us lost critical rehearsals, and some had to cancel shows. The storm hit the theatre community when our chips were already down, and this raises some questions to which there are no easy answers.

"I can't get out of my driveway. Can I get a refund for tonight's show?" I'm very sorry ... no. "But why?!" Well ... because we have to stay in business. Despite the state of emergency, Broadway Across America held every performance of Wicked, and its only concession to snow- or shelter-bound ticket-holders was to honor those tickets for the return engagement in May. I fully understand that. Those ticket-holders who can make it to the show have a right to see it, and the company has a right not to take a devastating financial loss. Is this awkward to explain? Certainly. It's hard and often painful to say no. But sometimes we must.

Many of us already had our first encounter with this, when calls started coming in asking for "deals," discounts and ticket-price breaks, after some local television stations convinced people that it was a good idea. (See last month's editorial, "No Thanks to the New 'Deal.'") Those news spots about "cheap tickets" — an unfortunate monicker that serves to cheapen the product as much as the price — hurt our morale as well as our box office. In this economy, as donations dry up and grants funding all but disappears, those who would cut our remaining source of income need to take a serious look in the mirror.

My own theatre group frequently gets calls asking whether they can get a refund if they can't make it to a show. If we can switch them to another performance, then we do, but most of the time we must simply say no. Our policy is posted on our web site, and we restate it when taking reservations over the phone. What more can we do? What can you?

The first thing is to be prepared. Snow and ice in winter are not altogether unexpected, and we should all have our policy in place long before they occur. Ditto for what other predictable problems may crop up. Then, when you have to say no, do it as kindly as you can, but do it. If we treat all of our customers equally and fairly, then we have to accept that we can't always make all of them happy. We must be content to know we've tried.

Let's heed the example of Broadway Across America, who handled a difficult situation well. Let's also heed the example of a tiny Kentuckiana theatre company who, after the storm hit, contacted all of its cast and crew and offered them shelter if their home was without heat or power. Theatre people are simply the best.

Normally, at this point I'd wrap up my editorial with the subhead, "Okay, Now Break a Leg." However, remembering all that ice, I'll dispense with it this time. Instead, I'll urge you to stay safe and warm.

If we keep our mutual support and our spirits up, the curtain will always rise again.

— A.S. Waterman


Copyright © 2009 A.S. Waterman. All rights reserved.





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