Now for the numbers... ~ theatre notes

Friday, November 16, 2007

Now for the numbers...

We've all said the 2007 Melbourne Festival was a stunning success (some say life-changing). And now MIAF has released its figures. These figures have been the occasion for much festival bashing over the past three years, so they're worth a brief examination.

This year MIAF's total ticket sales were 76,897 - up around 16,000 from last year, and in the Leo Schofield ballpark of between 60,000 and 80,000 deemed desirable by chief festival Grinch Robin Usher. The average ticket price is an astoundingly low $29. And MIAF lists a long drumroll of shows that were sold out or at near capacity. The estimate for total attendance to all free and ticketed events, which the festival says is incomplete as figures are still coming in, is 475,000. Not bad for an event in a city of 3 million people that was said to interest nobody at all.

Total box-office return was $1,967,960. This will be the only figure some critics will look at, comparing it unfavourably with the Sydney Festival's $4 million, as if the success of an arts festival is only measured by economic profit. I guess it depends what you think an arts festival is for: after all, Sydney's program is avowedly more populist.

I don't want to miff my Sydney friends, but I can't say that the 2008 dance and theatre program has made me rush out to book my plane tickets up north. For one thing, we've seen quite a few of the Australian productions here already - five, by my count - a couple as MIAF premieres. And the program shows that if you want a $4million return, you don't headline Merce Cunningham or Peter Brook or Robert Wilson; you bring in Bjork and that other Wilson from the Beach Boys. Nothing against Bjork, we love her here, but the music program looks like the Big Day Out.


On Stage And Walls said...

Well actually Bjork is appearing at Big Day Out and a lot of the Sydney festival acts are doubling with the Perth Festival so the exclusivity/desirability factor is no longer an issue either.

I also think that economics are an important factor. Paying for art is always going to be a reality and if the books show unsustainable losses its only natural to downsize or stop doing it.

Anonymous said...

Not miffed Alison. The offerings this year hardly set pulses racing up here. In fact, disappointment.

Sydney Neil

Alison Croggon said...

Hey Bardassa - when has art not depended on patronage? Did Mozart's concertos or ST Coleridge's poems ever make profits for Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach or Mr Wedgwood? We can be grateful that they didn't decide to "downsize".

I'm all for fiscal responsibility, and absolutely see the point of it with public money. But bald box office figures never reflect the actual - and well established - economic benefits of a healthy and vibrant arts culture. I don't just mean tourism etc, but the rather more intangible benefits of smart R&D, a thinking economy, social benefits etc etc. Quite apart from the real question of what a civilised society is. I always wonder why there never seems to be any question that spending trillions on weapons solely designed to kill and maim other people remains an unquestioned public good, but art is somehow considered dubious.

Chris Boyd said...

By my reckoning ($1,967,960/76,897) the average ticket price would be a tad over $25, not a tad under $30... but I wouldn't be surprised if the calculation is rather less than that simple.

You're quite right that box office takings are a dodgy, flat-earth way of assessing a festival.

In fact, I didn't expect the box office take to be so much greater than last year's, the simple fact being that audiences were younger than in previous years. And that's gotta be a good thing, that students could see just about anything for $25 bucks and that school groups could get into the best shows for twelve bucks. That's an investment in the future.

Woo bloody hoo I say.

Anonymous said...

Do you have the data on the number of tickets sold for the Sydney Festival? And how do other big arts festivals compare?

As a newcomer, I only recently figured out that the huge box office at PIAF is more likely to be a result of PIAF being the only festival in Perth, than of Perthians' hunger for high art.

Bardassa, 'if the books show unsustainable losses', should it not be 'only natural' to put some funding into one of the few things happenin' in Australia that a person can hide behind in pride, not shame? When my friends in Europe comment on my choice of second home, they will say either:

(1) ha ha, Crocodile Hunter, sheep per capita, where the bloody hell are you?; or
(2) wow, Chunky Move! Acrobat! Cate Blanchett!

That a country is treated like a valid participant in the global cultural dialogue, rather than a banana republic. How do you convert that into AUD$?

Most of society is a public investment, and for the arts people to keep saying themselves that arts have to justify themselves, in a situation when freeways, political lunches and tax breaks don't, that's just bad for business.

Anonymous said...

jana i think i'm in love with you.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Jana. The most recent figures I could find were for the 2005 Sydney Festival, in which a government report said that "80,000 people attended the ticketed events and over 300,000 attended the free outdoor events at Sydney Olympic Park, the Domain and Darling Harbour. Combined with other activities, the total attendance is estimated at around 1.5 million people." (I'm not sure what the "other events" are.)

Anonymous said...

If the Syndey Festival had the same level of subisdy as the Melbourne Festival they might be able to be more adventurous with their programming.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Anon - do you know the subsidy for the Sydney Festival? Because I couldn't find any figures. But working from those I can find, it's actually about $1.5m more than MIAF.

The Sydney Festival this year has a total budget of $17.7 million. Of this, the festival says 30 per cent (around $5.3 million) is generated by cash and in-kind sponsorship, and the rest is raised through government sponsorship and ticket sales. Assuming ticket sales are the same as last year - $5.5 million - that leaves $6.9 million in government subsidies.

MIAF, on the other hand, gets $5.5 million in subsidies.