Taking a gamble on Something Rotten

Everything that we buy is a gamble. Milk could be off or it could be the best milk you ever tasted. A car could last without fault for twenty years or it could break down as it drives from the dealership. And a show could be one of the best or most rotten things you have ever seen. You don’t know until you take that jump. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing that can be done to decrease that gamble.


We all love short odds because, believe it or not, we like to win. Every now and then we will take the long odd gamble just for the rush of maybe coming out on top with great rewards, but in our everyday life most of the time we will choose the option with the most probability of winning.

But I’m actually not talking about gambling in the sense that it is usually used. There isn’t any horse racing, professional sport or a bookie in sight. Every decision we make is a gamble because it involves monetary cost, time cost and psychological cost.

Luckily we don’t have to weigh up the odds for every decision we make because otherwise we would never do anything. We use a number of already determined signs to immediately decide which way we are going to gamble next. For example, when in the supermarket there are a number of heuristics we use to determine which product to purchase. Brand, price, endorsements, colours, packaging and many more. These all form the odds in our decisions. If you want a low-risk gamble, choose a well-known brand with professional packaging. If you want a high-risk gamble, choose a brand that is written in another language that you have never heard of before.

But there is one very difficult heuristic to measure . . . money. And the importance of this concept has been brought up in a new show that is coming to Broadway, Something Rotten! Taking its inspiration from Shakespearean times, the show follows two brothers as they try to compete against Shakespeare’s popular plays and pen the first musical.

The paths most shows take to Broadway consist of a workshop, then an out-of-town try out to iron out any wrinkles in the audience reception and then a full-on Broadway show. Something Rotten! has decided to go another way.

When a Broadway theatre opened up (which is getting less frequent with each passing mega-hit), this production jumped at the chance and cancelled its out-of-town try out. This is quite a risk for the show. Without the good reviews of an out-of-town try out it could be hard to build anticipation for the show and without the opportunity to perform in front of many audiences the first few performances could be a bit rocky as issues are fixed.

So how do you make coming to the first few performances of this production low risk? Throw in a couple of musical celebrity performers. Check. Add in the director of Disney’s Aladdin. Check. But it always comes back to money.

Money is an interesting one for entertainment because it ends up displaying like a bell curve. Cheap tickets are low risk because of the low financial investment. But at the same time incredibly expensive tickets are low risk because it means there is enormous demand and that the product is worth it (i.e. Book of Mormon).

Well, Something Rotten! has turned to this heuristic to inspire theatregoers into the theatre offering all tickets for the first three shows at $15. Stalls, Dress Circle, Grand Circle, everything is $15. Does this cheapen the show? Maybe a little bit, but it also does something else.

It starts chatter and word of mouth. Sure the media is out there now covering this opportunity for cheap tickets, but the audience members who go to these first three shows will receive $120 of value for $15 and that means incredibly satisfied customers. And what do incredibly satisfied customers do? Tell all their friends, even the virtual ones who they have never met!

There are certainly risks involved, but it could create the word of mouth every production is looking to achieve.