For the first time in over 15 years, the band Neutral Milk Hotel reunited for a tour in the fall of 2013. The announcement, promoted by the band solely through a post on their website, came very much out of left field and had fans young and old scrambling for tickets. Though promotion by the band was essentially nonexistent, publicity through music blogs and social media spread like wildfire. Ticket sales began in May and most venues sold out immediately online. In fact, the band ended up adding more shows in the same places in order to give more ticket buyers a fair chance.
Tickets were only priced around $15, which only drove demand up further. They were not scaled by seat, as it was general admission, so all attendees paid the same price at the outset. Also, tickets could only be obtained on the night of the performance at will call to prevent reselling. The band seemed to put a lot of effort into making it an authentic experience, rejecting the past ten years of technological progression by prohibiting cell phone photography.
After selling out approximately one second after I managed to purchase a ticket, it is fair to say the concert was very well-attended! All ages could be found in the audience, though most people were either in their teens or twenties. There was seating available in the balcony area with a nice view for anyone who could not stand for the whole concert, which is definitely a plus for disabled or older viewers. From the minute the band entered the stage, you could feel the audience shifting into a really surreal moment. I have a feeling no one, including me, ever really expected to see them live, so the emotional response of everyone in the audience was incredible. Almost everyone sang along, and thanks to no-phones rule, there was minimal distracting screens being held in the air. The entire experience was unique and ethereal, and I have a hard time thinking there was anyone in the audience that wouldn’t go again.
On Tuesday, October 8th, I had the fortune of viewing As It Is In Heaven, by Arlene Hutton, at the Robinson Theatre in the Simons Center – and I mean fortune literally. Arriving 10 minutes before the 7:30 opening and immediately facing an out-the-door will call line, I swiftly became aware that I had drastically underestimated the demand for this show. I ultimately was able to buy my ticket after the will call line ran out, but it left me in wonder: how was so much awareness raised for this play? Was it word-of-mouth praise, or great advertising? I have to think that some was simply the college art community, combined with the fact that it was the last show of its run. After I was able to buy my ticket, only two more people in line received tickets before they ran out.
Tickets were $15, or $10 for students, faculty, and seniors, so income was being generated. However, being a college theater performance, I can only imagine profit was of least importance. The profits generated from these performances, which arguably are great due to the demand and wide range of age seen at the performance (I saw from preteen to elderly), probably went to covering the costs of production and supporting the theater department and thereby furthering education. The production itself was the most elaborate I’ve seen at the college set and costume-wise, but even so seemed relatively simple. The performances by the actors were impeccable, certainly outshining the play itself. This and the relatively low cost (especially student discount) made me optimistic for future productions, very much encouraging me to see more of what the College of Charleston theater department has to offer.
Improv is one of the more curious forms of entertainment out there. Not nearly as widespread as classic, heavily rehearsed and perfected entertainment, it is created completely on the spot, which in itself may restrict its audience to those who can handle the spontaneity. When done right it leaves one wide-eyed in a state of disbelief, while when done wrong it leaves one cringing into their chair. When done right it leaves one wide-eyed in a state of disbelief, while when done wrong it leaves one cringing into their chair. I had the opportunity to experience the former reaction at Theatre 99 in Charleston, SC on Wednesday.
Immediately upon entering Theatre 99 you are presented with a sense of intimacy and community. The woman taking my ticket feels just as part of their collective as the performers who left me laughing for an hour. The theatre isn’t totally visible from the street, and it’s a small little place, so you really do feel like you’re a part of it too. This vibe will surely encourage many audience members to return, as the theatre itself combine with the audience-involved nature of improv does foster the idea that the audience is welcome and accepted.
One thing that did not impress me about Theatre 99 was their lack of clear mission statement or transparent records. Multiple Google searches and scouring their website left me nothing as far as a mission statement, nor were their records available on Guidestar. After leaving such a trusting and intimate sense of community from the show itself, qualities like this serve to jeopardize the audience loyalty if they suspect Theatre 99 isn’t truly putting all its money towards its not-so-clear mission statement.
Overall the people of Theatre 99 are doing a unique service to Charleston in a very amicable and effective way. They have clearly fostered a community of loyal audiences, as well as generating positive reviews, somewhat word-of-mouth, to bring in new audiences that are welcomed as if they had been there all along. I am interested to see how they grow further as a theatre, and how they adapt to the internet age more fully to reflect their sense of community that they show in person on the digital stage.