Entertainment Spending: How, Not How Much

Here’s a piece that’s probably not going to make it as a column in this week’s edition of Kitsap A&E. So you get to read it here instead:

I read with dismay the other day an item in the AARP bulletin (don’t laugh; my folks send it to me) about how families are coping with the economic hard times wrought by … well, we all know what they were wrought by. But if I level blame, I’m told, the terrorists win.
The poll asked a few questions of two age groups — 50 to 64, and 65-plus — about whether they were finding it more difficult to afford food, gas, medicine and utilities.
Outside of the essentials — the $4.20-a-gallon tank of gas, the $3.25 tub of faux butter and $3 loaf of bread, staggering prescription costs and heating-cooling bills — the sharpest downturn mentioned by respondents was spending on entertainment and dining out.
Sixty-seven percent of the 50-to-64 folks polled said they were cutting down on the dollars they could shell out for a restaurant meal, a movie, a ballgame, a concert or a play. In the older age group, 46 percent admitted they were circling the wagons and staying home more to fight the high cost of living.
Those are ominous numbers for everybody, but especially for restaurant owners, movie theater proprietors and concert promoters.
And if you think those people have it tough, try running a small, independent live theater group, one that depends almost entirely on ticket sales and donations to provide its annual budget.
Granted, it’s not like anybody in the local theater community is losing a salary behind the current downturn — you can’t lose what you never had. None of those folks ever actually “make” anything putting on plays, anyway. They’re volunteers, who often put nearly as much time into their avocation as goes into their wage-earning day jobs.
Even with an all-volunteer work force, the overhead involved with running a community theater group is daunting: The ones who don’t have to pay rent on a venue, or pay for upkeep of a venue they might happen to own or be entrusted with, are lucky. But all face royalties for the scripts they choose to perform, plus the cost of set and costume material or rental. Add on the inevitable “miscellaneous” costs, and then toss in the expense of fuel to get all those actors, directors, musicians, costumers, set-builders et al to and from rehearsals and performances, and you’re talking about a massive commitment on a modest scale.
It’s never been easy. The current recession (you call it what you want; I’m callin’ it a recession) makes it even tougher, as the AARP poll shows.
Some of our local groups are more strapped than others. Bremerton Community Theatre hit the jackpot earlier this season, selling out their entire run of “The Sound of Music” and even adding a show in its 225-seat playhouse. A show like that helps the ol’ cash-flow situation, no doubt.
There are others, though, that don’t have nearly as many seats to sell, and are trying to fill a different niche than a big, family-pleasing musical like “The Sound of Music” fills. They’re already used to 30 or 40 in the house each night, and now are struggling to get by with even less ticket revenue.
I would fret a lot less if there was any logic, in the Darwinian sense, to the local volunteers’ struggles. If the new Eddie Murphy movie was actually a better choice for expenditure of some precious entertainment dollars than one of the local community theater offerings, I’d just chalk it up to survival of the fittest.
But Eddie’s track record for good movies isn’t too impressive. And even if you can’t do without his trademark smirk and shtick, it’ll turn up sooner or later (probably sooner, given that aforementioned track record) on demand, on video shelves, and on free TV (well, as free as anything administered by the Moneygrubber Cable Company).
On the other hand, a Bremerton Symphony concert happens once. The shows at the Admiral and other venues are one-night stands. A local theater group trots out its productions for a few weekends, and then they’re gone. No on-demand, no DVD, no Blu-ray.
And the local folks are doing a lot more than just trying real hard. A lot of what you can see and hear in local concert halls and on local stages ranges from adequate to extraordinary, giving you a chance to see a really good representation of something you might not otherwise ever get a chance to witness live … and at a fraction of the cost of boating over to see one of the big Seattle outfits perform it.
I know there are only so many dollars to go around. But in your budgeting, please keep in mind that the local arts and entertainment scene is a huge part of what makes Kitsap and surroundings such a unique and appealing place. By spending your entertainment bucks on them, you’re helping them weather the current drought, so that they’ll be here when times get better.
Not to mention, you might see or hear something you might never forget.

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