I have been closely following the World Cup, although I have not watched a single game. The reason is, if you ever want a time to go and see a sold-out show, check the time when the big match is playing and if it collides with show time, book away.
A couple of weeks ago, I’d fancied a trip to London to see Hamilton. Checking my World Cup planner, England were playing Belgium on Thursday, June 28 at 7pm – a perfect fit with the West End musical’s 7.30pm performance.
With the bonus of a big win against Panama the previous Sunday igniting England World Cup dreams, I went straight on to the theatre’s website and bingo! There were tickets (probably returns from die-hard footie fans) for sale on Thursday and not at premium prices.
A World Cup or other major sporting event (with the additional luck of warm weather) can often be a great time to try for day seats or one of the pre-show ticket lotteries that many productions operate.
But for the theatre business itself, significant sporting events, or the arrival of hot weather, is often the kiss of death.
This year, the World Cup and Wimbledon both take place at the same time. Factor in the arrival of a scorching summer and this has created – excuse the metaphor – a perfect storm.
Most hit or star-driven shows will still have sold well enough in advance, but productions that rely heavily on passing trade and late bookings risk taking a hit.
Two groups of people love rain: taxi drivers and theatre producers. Arguably, the best situation for passing trade and late ticket sales is a mild day with a few light showers in the morning but, crucially, not enough to deter people from going outside. To make it perfect for the producers, more frequent showers need to arrive in the afternoon (especially on a matinee day) and dark clouds in the late afternoon just before curtain up. Naturally, any heavy rain should end just before the show gets out.
For the theatre business itself, significant sporting events, or the arrival of hot weather, is often the kiss of death
Producers could do well to take a lesson from David Haig’s enjoyable new West End play Pressure and hire the services of someone like its lead character James Stagg, the real-life Scottish meteorologist whose long-range forecasting saved D-Day. That would at least provide an indication to producers of which weeks to increase the production’s marketing spend.
As Stagg says in the play: “Nothing is predictable about British weather, that’s why we love to talk about it.” The weather may be unpredictable but when it comes to the timing of a show, there is a science to when you choose to open.
Pressure arrived in the West End on June 6, a logical date as it coincided with the anniversary of D-Day. It plays until September 1, bridging the summer period. However, this is a notoriously challenging time in the West End as people’s focus shifts from indoor to outdoor activities. It means the impact of excellent reviews becomes exceptionally important at this time for an audience to feel a work is essential viewing.
Producers are less likely to try to extend a show through the summer months. This is especially prevalent if it’s a limited season that has already recouped as they can easily find that poor attendance in July and August eat up any profits.
There is obviously still the tourist ticket, but many of these audiences will head towards the long-running musicals, especially if they do not speak English. Other productions without an established brand, or playing without a film star, can struggle.
However, there are upsides. At these times, with a theatre landlord still requiring a tenant, producers can possibly secure a good deal, possibly with a show that may be harder to place in the spring or autumn when many more are vying for a venue. Nonetheless, the approach to a summer run requires careful strategy.
On Broadway, the summer months may also be a less popular time to open a production but not necessarily because of the warm weather. After the Tony Awards, and ahead of the new season getting underway in the autumn, many locals and industry figures leave the city in the summer, causing new shows to lose out on valuable attention.
For productions that are already running successfully, New York theatre (and cinema) box offices can see a spike in sales; an air-conditioned auditorium is a great respite from a hot summer’s day if you lack the same at home.
For those preparing for the Edinburgh Fringe this August, and not performing outdoors, there is little appeal to performing – or watching – a show in a baking-hot venue. It’s also tough to compete with the many fringe venue beer-garden operators who would probably welcome a rise in the thermometer past 30 degrees Celsius.
But while the sun keeps shining and sport dominates the TV schedules, it’s a great time to get your shorts on, keep an eye on the score sheet, and check out those hit-show box offices.