Nonprofit defends high ‘Birdie’ price

Peter Franklin moves on from career as agent

The top pricetag for single tickets to the Roundabout Theater Company’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie” is right up there with “Billy Elliot,” ringing in at a hefty $136.50.

And the org is prepped to defend a price point — the highest non-premium on Broadway — that may raise eyebrows among industry watchers wondering why a nonprofit company should charge a seemingly for-profit sum for its ducats.

They’ve already had to make such arguments during labor negotiations with unions, which might be tempted to point to those pricetags as an argument against the concessionary deals unions traditionally grant nonprofits.

For one thing, the coin taken in by single-ticket sales is offset by the reduced rates offered to subscribers, as well as the discounts available through programs including an initative that will price all tickets to the first preview of “Birdie” at $10.

“We’re not embarrassed by the ‘Birdie’ price,” says Harold Wolpert, managing director of the Roundabout. “Our subscribers pay more than 50% off of the full price, and subscription tickets make up around half of our total tickets sold.”

In the nonprofit model, shows operate at a budgeted loss, with fund-raising covering a major chunk of the overall costs of producing as well as of maintaining an organizational infrastructure that includes development and education programs — plus the occasional theater renovation. (“Birdie,” for instance, will be the inaugural production at the new Henry Miller’s Theater.)

Nonprofits can also argue that their limited but generally guaranteed engagements rep, for union members, more stable employment than a higher-paying commercial gig that can shutter at the first sign of critical dismissal or dwindling box office.

Surplus revenue (say, ticket sales from a hit) also is funneled back to the company, and none of the three nonprofits producing on Broadway (Roundabout, Manhattan Theater Club and Lincoln Center Theater) have instituted premium ticket prices.

But Bernard Gersten, exec producer of LCT (whose hit staging of “South Pacific” has seen its top ticket creep up to $125), acknowledges that along with nuts-and-bolts business considerations of ticket price vs. anticipated capacity, you can’t set a top ticket without taking the rest of the Street into account.

“Looking over one’s shoulder at what other people are charging is clearly one aspect of it,” he says.


Longtime legit agent Peter Franklin, laid off from William Morris in the wake of its merger with Endeavor, has decided he’s done being an agent.

With a roster of venerable clients that included Edward Albee, Arthur Laurents and Terrence McNally, Franklin had considered soldiering on at another agency, but recently decided against it.

His clients remain with WME, at least for the time being. Next step for Franklin: unknown for now.

“If I were to stay in the theater, it would have to be in service to writers in some way,” he says. “But not as an agent.”

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