Our production of Mauritius is selling slowly. This, despite two glowing reviews, a television interview, direct mail. billboards, e-blasts, posters, Facebook events, press releases, a feature story and full-color print ads. Our marketing materials are first-rate and the buzz is excellent. Our tastefully-decorated theater is within walking distance of every kind of restaurant imaginable. It offers free parking, excellent acoustics, comfortable seats, and our ticket prices are in lock-step with those of other theaters in the region. There’s art on the walls and music in the lobby and the bathrooms are immaculate. We’ve done everything right (other than choose a show with an utterly meaningless title that nobody knows how to pronounce … but let’s leave that for the moment).
We’ve even gone to great pains to warn our elusive demographic (50-something, conservative-leaning, college-educated women with disposable income) that the play “contains language some patrons may find offensive.” Translation: “contains 10 instances of the word ‘fuck,’ all of which we feel are contextually justified.” This advisory arises from our belief that Centre Stage patrons are ill-disposed toward public displays of blasphemy, profanity and most activities traditionally engaged in behind closed bedroom or bathroom doors.
So where are they? Where are these literate 50-something women with disposable income who refuse to attend plays on Wednesdays because doing so would conflict with adult Bible study? I ask because the entire membership of Centre Stage as it begins its 27th year in a metropolitan area of over one-half million people numbers fewer than 650. I ask because ticket sales for Mauritius are running at roughly 20% of capacity. I ask because comedienne Kathy Griffin’s show at the 2,100-seat Peace Center not three blocks from Centre Stage sold out last night over two years after Griffin made national headlines by ending her Emmy acceptance speech with “Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now.“
Is it just me, or are we fishing for sea bass in a salmon farm? More people, paying more per person, showed up to see “Suck it Jesus” in one night than we’ll seat during the entire run of our carefully-crafted, aggressively-marketed, thoughtfully-expurgated production of Mauritius. Over three times as many people packed the Peace Center to watch the star of “Straight to Hell” as will buy memberships at Centre Stage all year.
Granted, Griffin is a celebrity, but that’s not the point. The point is that 2,100 people bought tickets to see a notorious blasphemer in the same town where we bend over backward to avoid offense and are, at the time of this writing, being rewarded for our pains with 20% capacity sales.
So are Greenville’s patrons of the arts and entertainment hypocrites? Do they find offense with certain kinds of content only when it’s produced locally? Or do they suffer from low self-esteem? Do they assume that no locally-produced entertainment can rise to the standards of an act brought here by bus and truck? Questions for the ages perhaps, but Kathy Griffin’s sold-out performance at the Peace Center makes one thing abundantly clear: sometimes, even among the ladies who lunch, “Suck it, Jesus” sells.