Senior Musings October 2011

Posted 07.10.11

BobbiGetting What You Paid For

I went to the National Arts Centre recently to purchase tickets for The Lion King. Newspapers ads said tickets ranged from $45, but when I went to the website, the cheapest ticket I found cost $ 87.69 for the second balcony, on the side. A decent orchestra seat was priced at $112.69. And this was for a Saturday matinee.

However, when I went to the box office, I discovered that the cheapest tickets were not for the Saturday matinee, but for a Thursday matinee. But to find this on the website, you'd have to check prices for every single performance in the three-week run.

My ticket is in the very last row of the top balcony and cost a reasonable $32.69. I have to add $10 parking to that, and I hope the production lives up to at least some of its advance publicity.

It's hard to tell about any kind of commercial show any more.

A recent article in the New York Times pointed out that Columbia Artists Management (which used to be one of the most reliable sources of touring productions) books many orchestras who sound as if they are prestigious (such as the Moscow Symphony) who turn out to be students or freelancers hired for the occasion. Often, an original roster will be given to the the American Federation of Musicians, but after last-minute substitutions, the Dublin Philharmonic, for example, ended up with only two Irish musicians.

"The audiences are being deceived," said the Federation president. "They believe they're buying a ticket to some ensemble that has a legitimate pedigree. But it's a pickup orchestra of unemployed East European musicians willing to work for substandard wages."

For many years now, instead of booking actual touring Broadway productions with stars whose names we recognize, or recent original productions from Toronto, the NAC has used a company called Broadway Across Canada. Their advertising appears as if these are big productions with seasoned performers. Certainly, the prices they charge are similar to what one would pay in any other major city.

But reviews reveal quite a different story. Critics have complained about ragged choreography, inaudible lyrics, and a thin instrumental ensemble taking the place of the usual "pit" orchestra. Sometimes the leads are fresh out of university, with no professional experience.

Contrast these to productions at Orpheus, where there's a full orchestra and subscriptions for three musicals range from $86.75 to $98.75, three shows for the price of one at the NAC. And parking at Centrepointe is free.

Yes, performers in Orpheus shows are often Canterbury students, but others are veterans of dozens of musicals, who often work as singing, dance or music teachers in the Ottawa region.

It's not only in entertainment where we don't get what we think we're paying for. But it's unsettling to think that national institutions we ought to be able to trust are sometimes ripping us off.


Barbara Florio Graham is the author of three books, and served as Managing Editor of Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List. Read about that collection at http://www.SimonTeakettle.com/prosetogo.htm

Copyright © 2011 Barbara Florio Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/10.11