The Problem With Theatre Previews

Hands up if you deliberately avoid previews of theatre extravaganzas? Alright, hands up if you regularly attend previews of big musical productions? Like most things in this world, there is clearly two sides to every coin and whether you love them or loathe them, attending previews of hit shows is as attractive to some theatre-goers as it is uninviting to others.

If you love theatre previews, while I’m never going to side with you, I do understand why you go to them. For one thing, there are bragging rights. Here in Melbourne, the smash hit The Book of Mormon will open in … well … January 2017 … and even though it is more than a year off, pre-sale tickets have recently hit the web. I don’t recall a show selling tickets more than twelve months in advance before, such will be the demand for Mormon in Melbourne, only the third city in the world to see the production after New York and London. If you can be the first person at work or in your social group (more than likely your social media group) to brag at seeing Mormon, then I can understand why you’d want to buy a preview ticket. It’s tempting!


Then there’s the ticket price. Traditionally a discount from what will be the actual ticket price once the show officially opens, a preview ticket is one way to get good bang for your buck. Tickets to big musicals in particular can be quite pricey, so grabbing a seat to a big name show for a discounted price is clearly appealing to many. Not to mention you can often nab good seats to preview performances that may take you months to acquire once the show opens. Here, you are taking advantage of all the people who avoid previews.

But there are reasons why lots of people steer clear of preview performances in the theatre. Previews are trial runs testing the audience’s reactions, making mistakes, throwing in understudies, experimenting with the visuals, book, score, songs, direction, choreography … the list goes on. Many will argue a big hit musical will continue to get tweaked many months into the official season anyway, so seeing a preview makes no difference. To a certain extent, this is true. But at least when a show opens one hopes things aren’t as shaky as they may have been during previews. Some theatre directors are perfectionists, and Julie Taymor may well be one of them. Her show Spider-man: Turn off the Dark holds the record for the most previews in Broadway history – all 183 of them! What happened here was a complex mess, suffice to say one of the golden rules of theatre was broken (multiple times): when you announce an opening night, the show must go on.

There’s a solid argument the theatre-loving public is being taken for a ride with previews because the discount is normally meagre to say the least. Yes, one is receiving and viewing a product, but it is a bit like buying the demonstration model from the car seller. You’re after a reasonable discount on the price if the car has been driven for 6,000kms before you purchase it. So it is with theatre previews. If the show is almost but not really there yet, I’ll be asking for a fair discount as part of the bargain, not a skimpy one. Some will argue you get what you pay for with previews, and of course you know what you’re paying for at purchase. Well, I should hope so! I suspect not everyone buying pre-sale tickets for The Book of Mormon in Melbourne in recent weeks knew from the outset they were buying preview tickets. Was ‘preview’ mentioned in the advertising? No. Was ‘preview’ listed in the email for those on the waitlist? No. It was not until the later stages of purchase does one see ‘preview performance’ on the ticket order. Sneaky sneaky!

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