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Financial crisis -- or arts opportunity?

October 14, 2008 |  5:00 am

The stock market is in turmoil. Unemployment is climbing. Banks are closing. Retail sales are slowing. TV analysts are sounding like so many Chicken Littles.

What we have here is ... a marketing opportunity.

"La Jolla Playhouse Offers Relief for Stressful Times," reads a press release from the venerable theatrical venue. It is making a "pay what you can" offer for three performances of the new Charles La Jolla Playhouse's 'Third Story' Busch comedy "The Third Story." People can purchase tickets for "any amount they can afford" (but $1 at the least) for the matinee on Saturday and for both the matinee and evening show on Sunday, which is this closing weekend. Tickets for those shows are normally priced from $42 to $56.

Of course, there's nothing new about the "pay what you can" proposal: Many Southern California theaters make that offer from time to time simply to fill empty seats and perhaps develop a theater-going habit in people who might not otherwise give it a try. What's different about La Jolla's approach is the rationale.

"The last two weeks have been an incredibly stressful and uncertain time for all Americans -- emotionally, psychially and financially," artistic director Christopher Ashley said in the release. "La Jolla Playhouse would like to make a small gesture towards providing at least some relief through creating some very accessibly priced performances.... Hopefully, some of you will choose to be quite generous! But mostly, we want you to take a night off, come out to La Jolla Playhouse and enjoy the show."

In L.A., meanwhile, Reprise Theatre Company, which specializes in musical revivals, is also playing the economic downturn card in a fundraising letter to subscribers.

"We believe theatre is even more important during these difficult economic times," write president Lawrence Y. Iser and artistic director Jason Alexander. "Musicals, in particular, uplift and entertain us. But during hard times, the arts take a disproportionately severe financial hit."

Well, yes, but isn't this perhaps a tad premature? If only because many of us are still in shock over the economic crisis? On the other hand, maybe the Reprise execs are hoping people will write them a check now, before their stock statements arrive in the mail.

-- Lee Margulies

Photo: Rebecca Lawrence (Verna) and Jonathan Walker (Steve) in "The Third Story" at La Jolla Playhouse.

Photo by J.T. MacMillan

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