The snow last Wednesday and Thursday cut down seriously on ticket sales for performing arts in Washington and provoked some complaints from people who had bought tickets but could not use them or get refunds. Most places downtown were back to normal by the weekend, when it was merely cold, but many closed on Wednesday and/or Thursday, and some of those that didn't probably wished they had. Wednesday's cancellations ranged from Charlie's Georgetown (where Tammy Grimes added an extra performance on Monday to compensate) to Ford's Theatre (where the entire cast -- Vincent Price -- was unable to get through the weather and traffic). Thursday night's audience was small, but Price found it "wonderful." Apparently the people who get to a performance through snow and sub-zero temperatures exude more warmth for a performer.
Some organizations were lucky. The Washington Performing Arts Society had nothing happening on Wednesday or Thursday, and by Saturday night, when the Boston Symphony played, things were back to normal -- except for flooding that made one floor of parking at the Kennedy Center unusable. The BSO performance came within 50 tickets of selling out, and the sponsors' only worry was whether the orchestra would arrive on time.
The Washington Opera had a bit more than 50 percent attendance in a completely sold-out house on Wednesday night, no performance scheduled for Thursday and normal attendance on the weekend, which was the end of its season. "Amazingly enough," said a spokesman, "we had very few complaints from people who could not exchange tickets or get a refund. We had expected more."
At the National, "Evita" played to a half-full house on Wednesday and about 400 sold-but-empty seats on Thursday. Because of the unusual circumstances, the National made a one-time exception to its standard policy of no refunds or exchanges. The first callers were treated according to this policy, but when the demand began to accumulate, the National began to accept exchanges for a later date, and a few patrons (such as a couple who couldn't make it from Richmond on Wednesday night) were given refunds.
The Folger playhouse, which normally has a no-refund, no-exchange policy, also "bent the rules a little for our subscribers" after canceling on Wednesday and playing to a high percentage of no-shows on Thursday. Since then, ticket sales have been about normal.
Outside of downtown, the effects seemed more serious and lasting. Ticket sales were lower than usual at the Capital Centre through the weekend. The Barns at Wolf Trap, after a very successful opening night, had to cancel the rest of their first week in business. They will reopen this weekend with a Kurosawa film festival.
From Georgetown nightclubs, reports were mixed. While Charlie's canceled Wednesday and had relatively low attendance through the weekend, Blues Alley (which "never closes if we can possibly help it") reported that the weather "certainly slowed business but didn't hurt us too much." They attribute this relatively stable attendance to the diehard loyalty of local jazz fans.
The manager of Charlie's reports one curious sidelight on Wednesday, the night of the big snow: "We had a big drinking crowd out front, but nobody to hear Tammy Grimes in the back room."