Playing the old favourites

The iTunes Music Festival in the UK was kicked off today with a performance by international sensation Lady Gaga playing entirely new material off her album ARTPOP. So what does this have to do with theatre? Well, let’s look at this from the audience’s perspective.

Lady GaGa Opens iTunes Festival

During a quiet moment in Lady Gaga’s set, a rather overzealous fan who attended the concert with the hope of hearing some of her classic hits shouted out ‘Just play Poker Face’.

Now I’m not saying that she was wrong to play an entirely new catalogue of songs at the festival. In fact it is a highly-prestigious event that is covered by a ridiculous amount of media which makes it a great situation to spread word about the eight new songs. But it does highlight the importance of an audience’s evaluation of risk when attending a performance.

You would be forgiven for thinking that Lady Gaga fans were rather risk prone as opposed to risk averse. Mostly because her music is a little experimental and different (in a good way) from mainstream pop music. But even within these risk prone fans, there are clearly still some people who don’t want to risk the money they spend on their concert tickets on an entirely new set without seeing her perform some of their favourite songs.

As a result, it would be a good idea to make a concession so that all of the audience members have a good time. Maybe play a crowd-favourite, like Poker Face, but this time wear an outfit made from chicken thighs? Okay I’m only joking, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to throw in at least one sure-fire hit from the past!

Now look at Broadway.

Each season has at least three different categories:

  • A selection of new musicals that have never been performed on Broadway before (Kinky Boots, Matilda, Big Fish etc.)
  • A group of revivals that have previously worked in the past and are now being reimagined for current audiences (Pippin, Annie, The Mystery of Edwin Drood etc.) ; and
  • The steadfast long-running shows that aren’t going anywhere (Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Book of Mormon etc.)

There are options for the risk prone in choosing a completely new musical that very few people have ever seen before. There are options for the audiences who like to take a little bit of risk and try a well-loved musical that has been reimagined into something only a little bit different. And there are options for audience members who are risk averse and feel that for a $120 ticket they want to attend a show where they know they will get $120 worth of value, hence the long-running favourites.

They say that playing safe isn’t a good idea. Well, in this situation it most certainly is! This way there is literally something for everyone (except the Tupac fans, but then just wait for the new Tupac-inspired musical that will soon hit Broadway).

And as a result, no one is turned away from engaging with the Broadway brand – even if it may not be with your musical, it may encourage them to give your show a go next time!

Let me know in the comments below if you would have preferred to see an entirely new set from Lady Gaga or if you would have liked to hear a classic Gaga song or two thrown in the mix!

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