The Kennedy Center says sales for longer runs tend to slow every four years during electoral autumns. GALA Hispanic Theatre, coming off a strong 2011-12 season, took a hit this fall that associate producing director Abel Lopez thinks is partly because of broad focus on “the campaign discourse.” The Shakespeare Theatre Company recently had a tough time selling the return engagement of the National Theatre of Scotland’s “Black Watch,” the searing interview-based drama about soldiers’ experiences in Iraq.
Yet some shows, of course, are selling well, among them Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Michael Kahn’s broad, jolly staging of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 farce “The Government Inspector.”
“I don’t think anybody exactly knows,” Kahn says of the general sales dip. “It’s always a difficult time at an election because people are preoccupied. . . . Everybody is thinking the election has something to do with it.”
Shalwitz says colleagues as far afield as San Francisco are fretting about the box-office pox and its potential political roots. But nobody has reliable numbers to back up a connection that a lot of theater insiders, especially inside the Beltway, feel in their bones.
“It’s hard to come to a specific causal effect,” Shalwitz says.
At Arlington’s Signature Theatre, managing director Maggie Boland, who worked at Arena Stage for 10 years, has never heard reliable patrons say they wouldn’t attend because of campaign distractions.
On the other hand, she says, “I definitely support the idea that election season is a difficult time to sell anything, whether it’s because we are competing for audiences’ attention, competing for the media’s attention, or just that people are in a crabby mood.”
“The thing that I know for sure,” Shalwitz says of the pervasive influence of a campaign in high season, “is that audiences bring that with them no matter what play is on the stage.” During talkbacks after “Chad Deity,” for instance, audiences have made comparisons between the charismatic incumbent wrestling champ of the title and President Obama, even though Kristoffer Diaz imagined and drafted the play before the 2008 election.
It’s easy enough to glimpse the theater world’s absorption with all things politics thanks to Twitter. During debates, playwrights, actors, directors and critics fire off real-time commentary with the trigger-finger frequency and indignation of paid pundits.