In the last few weeks, I have been doing quite a bit of traveling. I have gotten the opportunity to speak with many of my colleagues from around the nation, and they are all saying the same thing -- ticket sales are down this year. Last year, I kept hearing that well branded products were doing very well, while less known fare was struggling. Now I am hearing that even annual cash cows (think A Christmas Carol and Nutcracker) aren't doing well. When a classic theater has problems selling Romeo and Juliet, you know something is up.
So it got me thinking about what is going on (and of course, this is just an opinion). We are all seeing reports that even though some aspects of the economy might be improving, many are still getting worse, such as unemployment. Unemployment is the highest is has been in 20 years. Last year when the stock market crashed and it became clear we were all in for what looked to be an unprecedented global economic crisis, many companies panicked. They didn't know how to project future revenue, so they opted to look at the side of the ledger they could control -- expenses. With that came the layoffs.
Those lucky enough to survive the layoffs took on responsibilities that were normally handled by two or three people. Many managers noted that the resulting model was unsustainable, but thought that most people could put up with the extra load for a short period of time, hoping that the economy would improve and that hiring would be possible. Well, it has been over a year, and unemployment is getting worse, so the unsustainable model of having one person carry the workload of three continues.
As arts administrators, I no longer believe our largest challenge is dealing with people's fears about the economy. That was so last year. Instead, we now have to deal with people who are simply exhausted, and when Friday comes, they want to do nothing more than spend the weekend on the couch in order to recuperate and be ready for the next grueling work week. Whereas last year, our largest competitors might have been other cultural destinations or sporting events, I am starting to think that our most significant future competitor might be cable television and a warm bed.