American Rep Sets New Freebie Policy

In a money-saving move, the American Repertory Theater will break tradition, giving only one complimentary ticket per critic and theater writer, and fewer comps to staff, company and invited guests.

The company has also done away with early opening-night curtains and is trying to spread critics’ coverage over several nights.

Peter Zeisler, Theater Communications Group’s director, knows of no other theater in the country doing what the American Rep is doing.

The new policy goes into effect with the 1991-92 season. Previews begin Nov. 22 for “Hamlet”; first regular performance is Nov. 27 at Harvard’s Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge. “Hamlet” is produced jointly with the Pittsburgh Public Theater and is running in Pittsburgh through Nov. 17.

In September, managing director Robert J. Orchard (VARIETY, Sept. 23) said free opening-night tickets cost the nonprofit American Rep $65,000 to $70,000 a season. He also said the pressure of a single opening night with an audience dominated by the media and guests was counterproductive.

Other Boston-area theaters aren’t following suit – yet. The Huntington Theater Co. continues to give critics two comps apiece and to have an official opening night with an early curtain, as do Boston’s downtown commercial theaters. The Huntington’s managing director, Michael Maso, says his theater will be watching the outcome of the new Rep policy with considerable interest.

The media is now being asked to attend Wednesday, Thursday or Friday evenings following five previews, in the hope that “this will eliminate the obligations and pressures of ‘opening night’ both for the cast and for the media,” Orchard said.

Critics and other press members traditionally have received a pair of tickets. But in a letter addressed to the media, Orchard says the American Rep box office will “be happy to reserve additional paid tickets for anyone accompanying the critic or media person upon request.” Feature writers and editors also will be required to pay for tickets.

American Rep has a $38 top.

Most area critics and editors are taking the new policy lightly, saying that it’s the prerogative of any theater to hand out comps as it sees fit. However, Arthur Friedman, a critic for the Boston Herald, sees the policy as an aspect of the Rep’s hostility toward Boston-area critics.

Antagonism denied

Orchard says he believes that his theater has “a good relationship with the media.” He added that, “We’ve also cut the number of comps given to donors, staff and cast members.”

Both Friedman and Providence Journal critic William Gale mourned the loss of the early opening-night curtain, because they say it will make meeting their deadlines even tougher.

Carolyn Clay, theater editor and critic at the weekly Boston Phoenix, has “no violent feelings” about the American Rep move. “But it may result in a lessening of goodwill toward the ART,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next year or so.”

Clay adds that she regrets that her theater feature writers, who need to see everything done locally, may now be limited in what they see at the American Rep.

Kevin Kelly, theater reviewer for The Boston Globe, says that 20 years ago he advocated – unsuccessfully – that his paper buy tickets for its critics. He’ll now accept the single comp from the American Rep, and his paper will buy another ticket if he requests one.

Kelly acknowledged a history of friction between American Rep and local critics. But he says other factors enter into the new policy. “The ART does have financial problems,” Kelly said, “as does virtually every theater in the country.”

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