80 Years Before TKTS – The First Discount Ticket Booth In Times Square

Little trip down memory lane to an entry I did referencing Joe LeBlang, the owner of a tobacco shop whose entrepreneurial mind created NYC’s first Times Square discount ticket service in 1894, long before the 1972 opening of the current TKTS booth. (h/t again to Ken Davenport)

At the time shop owners would be given tickets if they agreed to place show posters in their windows. LeBlang collected the tickets his neighbor shop owners weren’t going to use and resold them at a discount and split the profits with the other shop owners. He became so successful, not only did theatre owners come to him with their unsold tickets, but the US post office had a special division dedicated just to his business.

Despite the fact they were providing him with tickets, show producers had a love-hate relationship with LeBlang, though they shared a mutual dislike for ticket brokers (Yes, apparently secondary market resellers have been a problem for over 120 years):

Leblang and the Producing Managers’ Association

Today it’s known as The Broadway League, but in 1905 it was called the Producing Managers’ Association and Leblang’s relationship with them rotated between adoration and contempt. Most Broadway producers were personal friends of Leblang, but loathed his business model, which they charged lessened the value of their product.

They made a number of attempts to run Leblang out of the business, but as Leblang went on to save a number of Broadway shows from closure he became an integral part of the Broadway show landscape.

Leblang’s War on Ticket Brokers

Leblang and The Producing Managers Association made no secret of their dislike of ticket brokers, which they agreed alienated the ticket buying public. Leblang devised a way to limit ticket speculation; his proposal in 1919 wasn’t readily accepted, but later on elements were used by Actors Equity as a barter to begin Sunday performances.

Somber Silence The New Standing Ovation?

I saw an article on the NBC News site questioning the value of standing ovations with a subtitle suggesting the seeming default occurrence of the act was a symptom of “‘everyone gets a trophy’ culture.” I almost passed it by because it didn’t sound like it was going to say anything new on the subject.

I am glad I didn’t because along with observations about standing ovations being meaningless if you do them all the time and suggesting that audiences can be manipulated into giving standing ovations, the writer Maggie Mulqueen, says they can also represent demands audiences expect to be met:

At a classical music concert I attended recently, the soloist left his violin backstage during his bows as a clear sign that there would be no encore despite the demands of the audience. As we headed out of the theater, I overheard grumblings of disappointment that he had not acquiesced to the call for more. We don’t expect every sporting event to go into overtime in return for giving the teams a standing ovation, so I am not sure where this sense of entitlement comes from for the performing arts.

Later, she provides an anecdote illustrating how lack of applause can be a greater testament of the power of a performance than a standing ovation—while admitting concerns that the performers might read it the wrong way.

The play ended suddenly, the stage went dark, and the audience, stunned by the power of the play, was silent for several seconds. Then, as the weight of the experience sank in, hands began to clap, tears were dried, and actors took their bows. The audience filed out quietly as we tried to regain our bearings.

Ironically, the absence of a standing ovation that night added to how memorable an event it was. Because the content of the play is sober and dark, such a gesture would have felt like a celebration and been in poor taste. As I made my way back to my hotel, I wanted to tell everyone I saw on the Tube to go see it. But mostly, I wanted to reassure the actors. “You were great,” I wanted to tell them. “Please understand it was your forceful performance that kept us in our seats.”

Adding A Throwaway Option Can Solidify Decisions

Many arts organizations are seeing a drop in ticket sales and subscriptions this year which got me to thinking about a TED talk Dan Ariely did about how unwanted options helped helped people make a decisions, in some case spending more than the cheapest option.  I had done a post about it some years ago and thought about how it might be applicable to subscriptions.

Offer people options that don’t have value to nudge them toward purchasing more a bigger subscription package than they might have. I don’t know that it would transform a lot of single ticket buyers into subscription buyers unless we are wrong about flexibility being more important than price. A mini-subscription that offered flexibility and appeared to be a great value might have some success in getting single ticket purchasers to commit.

I also wonder if offering non-premium options with your show helps make them look more attractive than your competitors’. Ariely talks about another experiment where they offered people the option of an all-inclusive trip to Rome or Paris. In this case it is really apples and oranges since the two cities are in different countries have have so many different attributes to value. Once they add the option of going to Rome but having to pay for coffee in the morning, suddenly people preferred [all-inclusive] Rome over Paris by a larger degree due to the lesser option being available.

It doesn’t seem logical to me to think that given the option between the symphony and a free cocktail at intermission and the opera and a free cocktail at intermission, that people would flock to the orchestra if a no cocktail option for the same price was offered. But as Ariely points, out the decision being made are not entirely rational.

Great Experience Is Crucial To Achieving Perfect Acoustics

I haven’t really been paying close attention to all the recent stories about the re-opening of the renovated Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, but a New Yorker article about how the acoustics have been re-engineered caught my notice. Our main guides through the article are acoustical-engineers Christopher Blair and Paul Scarbrough of the firm, Akustiks, who were hired to solve the sound problems of the hall.

The fact they were advising that the adhesive coating on wood paneling be 3/16 inch thick rather than 1/8 and were concerned that the fabric samples for the seating was too thin, you get a sense of just how exacting the tolerances they work with. So you can imagine just how upsetting it was to the original acoustic engineer when 200 seats were added to the initial construction of the hall in the 1950s without consulting with him. That decision apparently has contributed to the sound problems of the hall ever since.

The new design eliminates 200 seats, increases the pitch of the seating and moves the orchestra 25 feet closer to the audience. This will mean instead of 30% of seats being 100 feet or more from the orchestra, only nine percent will.

But Blair and Scarbrough say that the audience experience of the space is of greater influence on how the room sounds than all the science based adjustments they are implementing, something known as psychoacoustics.

Scarbrough said that the Royal Festival Hall of London was one of his favorite venues: “You cross the Thames on the Hungerford Bridge, you can see Parliament, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral. The lobby is active, it’s like the living room for all of South Bank. You progress upstairs, and—”

“—and it almost makes up for the acoustics,” Blair interrupted.

“True. But you feel you’re in a special place. It’s the psychoacoustics that works so well there.”

[…]

People often have a special feeling about listening to opera outdoors, under the stars with a bottle of wine. The sound is usually weak, or amplified, or in other ways just not that good—yet, still, great.

The author of the New Yorker piece, Rivka Galchen, cites the way sound plays in Hagia Sophia, Chichén Itzá and Toshogu Shrine, in Nikko, Japan as examples of how people have been integrating psychoacoustics to create a sense of importance to a place.

For Geffen Hall, these principles aren’t just being applied inside the hall, but in terms of how audiences approach the doors and move throughout the space. We talk about how there is often a sense that you have to possess inside knowledge to attend an orchestra concert, but architect Gary McCluskie is quoted as saying that was the case if you wanted to even find the door.

“With the old hall, it was difficult to even find the entrance, unless you already knew where it was,” McCluskie said. They wanted the hall to feel welcoming to everyone, not only to those people who were—in whatever way—in the know.

Clearly, a great deal of effort and attention is being paid to getting things right and erasing past perceived flaws with the space currently known as Geffen Hall. In reading the article, I also became aware of the time and effort that went into writing the piece. This piece is set to appear in the print edition of the New Yorker on October 17, but Rivka Galchen notes that she first met with Blair and Scarbrough to discuss their work in November 2021, spoke to New York Philharmonic conductor Jaap van Zweden in June and references people she spoke with at two tuning rehearsals which started in August.

I just wanted to note that while I knock out these posts in the course of an hour or so, I need to acknowledge I am benefiting from much greater efforts made by others.