Death of a Salesman
May 3, 2012 11:33 AM   Subscribe

The revival of Death of a Salesman starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman is taking Broadway by storm. It's directed by Mike Nichols and also stars Andrew Garfield. It's one of the theater's most respected works. But there's a bittersweet irony with this revival. "Tickets for the original run, in 1949, cost between $1.80 and $4.80; tickets for the 2012 run range from $111 to $840. After adjusting for inflation, that’s a 10-fold increase, well beyond the reach of today’s putative Willy Lomans." "Certainly few middle-class people, or at least anyone from any “middle class” that Loman would recognize, are among the audiences attending this production."
posted by Cool Papa Bell (89 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
But isn't the "upper middle class" the NYTimes' core readership? I go to their site's front page and there are ads for luxury goods. I can recall high school sessions of going through their microfiche and seeing the same kinds of advertisements.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:40 AM on May 3, 2012


$840?

WTF, I wouldn't pay 840 bucks to have the cast perform it in my living room. That's fucking sick. I mean that in a literal way, that's a symptom of a sick society to price art like that.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:41 AM on May 3, 2012 [22 favorites]


The revival wasn't really that good, but if you're looking to talk about Broadway prices, you need to look at Book of Mormon.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:42 AM on May 3, 2012


God dammit, I was looking forward to seeing that. I used to go to the theater at least once a year before my mom died, but I've been both too lazy/too cheap to go lately. Although I did take my girlfriend to the new production of Jesus Christ Superstar for her birthday. Are there ticket lotteries for this thing?
posted by griphus at 11:47 AM on May 3, 2012


I don't know where $111-$840 comes from. The lowest ticket price is Wednesday matinee rear mezzanine, which is $46.50. The highest ticket price is "Premium" tickets for $426.50, where you are actually paying for 2nd row center, and is mainly priced that way so that the theater makes the profit instead of scalpers.
posted by smackfu at 11:47 AM on May 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


Okay so apparently /I doesn't close the EM tag. Lesson learned.
posted by griphus at 11:48 AM on May 3, 2012


Broadway hasn't been accessible to folks with moderate incomes for a long, long time.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:54 AM on May 3, 2012


Broadway hasn't been accessible to folks with moderate incomes for a long, long time.

This really isn't true at all. I don't think neither me, or my mom have ever paid over $100/ticket (usually between $50 and $70) to see a show, and we saw at least one show a year between 1990 and 2010. You just have to be willing to sit in the cheap seats. You certainly can't go regularly on a moderate income, but it's not walled off.
posted by griphus at 11:56 AM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


WTF, I wouldn't pay 840 bucks to have the cast perform it in my living room. That's fucking sick. I mean that in a literal way, that's a symptom of a sick society to price art like that.

Well, what's the alternative? Price it at $10-25 and have tickets distributed first-come-first-served? Then the rich folks will just hire a third party to stand in line or hammer the ticket sales website or call the box office as soon as tickets go on sale. The net effect is the same except it won't be as transparent. And that's the best case. The worst case is that the market gets taken over by scalpers. The nature of a live performance is that there are a fixed number of seats in the house, and if demand outstrips supply, the price goes up.

You could build a bigger theater in order to offer more tickets, but then the added seats rapidly get less and less valuable (because of the limits of human vision and hearing) while the rent goes up faster and faster (this is New York, after all). The compromise between these forces results in theaters that seat a few hundred to a couple of thousand people, with a few exceptions like Radio City Music Hall.

A ticket lottery has a lot of disadvantages, pretty much regardless of how it's run. And you still have the scalping problem.

And if you wouldn't pay $840 to have a well-known cast perform an established show in your living room, wait til you find out how much it costs to put an original painting from an established artist in your living room.
posted by jedicus at 11:57 AM on May 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


May I say a word in defence of high ticket prices?

My wife and I are lucky enough to be well-off at this point in our lives. Our tastes are still pretty modest, with the exception of theatre trips: we love going to the theatre. We're happy to pay a lot of money (well, not $840, but hundreds of dollars certainly) to get great seats at great shows. And we both work, so we have limited time. And we don't live in New York, so we're limited in flexibility on dates.

So it seems reasonable that people like us get, well, soaked for as much as we'll pay. We'll cough up, because we have to. So every show should have some seats that are expensive, so you can get the cash out of people like us. In fact, there's a case for every show every night having one pair of seats that's not filled because they are so expensive: only then can you know you're capturing all the value you can.

Because good theatre is expensive. I'm happy to cough up now for expensive seats. When I was a poor student I paid $8 for standing-only at the back (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC with Judy Dench, hurrah!). These should be in some kind of balance: it's by soaking rich tourists like us you can pay your actors and stagecrew and rents and production team, and also make available cheap seats for young people and people who love the theatre but don't have so much cash. I'm going to hope (I don't know about this case) that the $111 cheap seats are actually available for less on the day, or there are some other discounts or ways of getting seats (student connections) to allow more people to see the show who otherwise couldn't. If not, maybe there should be, but I'm not going to attack a producer for making money while the sun shines - another flop is only a production away. But I'm undermining my general proposal with a specific case, so I'll stop there.

Or to put it another way: I love the theatre. I'm happy to pay for it. Soak me and and use the cash to pay for more shows, more musicians, and more cheaper seats for those who can't afford the fewer expensive ones. From each according to their means, as a wise man once said. You have a positional good: for the best seats at a good show there is no limit to what you can charge. Use that income to further your desire to deliver your art to a wider audience.

We saw both DEATH OF A SALESMAN (in preview) and BOOK OF MORMON in February - they were great. I spent the next week at a conference with our Mormon business partners, and had the MORMON songs in my head all week, but tried to avoid singing them out loud...! And we also saw SPIDERMAN, which was terrible but worth seeing what $79M gets you. Broadway is awesome, great, spectacular.
posted by alasdair at 12:03 PM on May 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


The highest ticket price is "Premium" tickets for $426.50, where you are actually paying for 2nd row center, and is mainly priced that way so that the theater makes the profit instead of scalpers.

Much like in many other venues, the answer is (somehow) destroy the scalpers.
posted by inigo2 at 12:04 PM on May 3, 2012


Can someone give any color to the gradual shift of the theatre from a very egalitarian, populist pastime to (arguably) being the province of the affluent?

I've been reading a biography of Orson Welles, for instance, and his Mercury Theatre was for the everyman, the working man. People from all strata of society went to the theatre in the 20s/30s/40s/50s, at the same time as people were going to movies. Was it simply that TV supplanted theatre? Was it the rising price of tickets (IATSE collective bargaining, perhaps? Greedy producers? Rents?) Was it the death of the music hall, making theatre a more alien institution?

(Of course, people from all strata go to the theatre now, and cheap tickets / rushes can be had, and there's off and off off Broadway, etc--there's no reason why someone can't go)
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:11 PM on May 3, 2012


They can charge those prices because people will pay. Someone on a theatre board I'm on said his brother paid $1k for two tickets to "Book of Mormon".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:11 PM on May 3, 2012


Can someone give any color to the gradual shift of the theatre from a very egalitarian, populist pastime to (arguably) being the province of the affluent?

Sure. A couple things
a) It costs many millions of dollars to mount a production on Broadway. Even twenty, twenty-five years ago, this wasn’t so much the case. Broadway real estate is expensive, as are Equity minimums, union orchestras, etc. An unknown property or revival of a very well known property has to be fucking great in order to bypass casting a star (see, Book of Mormon). Stars are REALLY expensive. You have to make that money back somehow.

b) Broadway shows are no longer produced by one person, like David Merrick, or even a small team. The Broadway revival of Godspell has HUNDREDS of producers. When you, the lead producer, are charged with trying to pay these people back for investing in your show, you’ve got to balance between raising ticket prices and putting butts in seats.

c) Producers realized, after The Producers in 2001, that they could charge for premium tickets. If you have a chance of recouping faster, you’re going to, because it gives your show good press, and gives the impression of being a hot ticket.

d) Once one show does it, everybody follows.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:19 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I haven't been to the theatre for years for this reason. I can actually put an approximate price on the pleasure various experiences give me, and going to see a good play is worth about two bottles of decent wine at best. A good band... maybe three bottles. A good film... eh, one cheap bottle and a cheap cigar, tops. I may be jaded but it sure saves me a lot of cash.

The theatre is for rich people, again. There was a time there when it was affordable, but that time appears to have gone. Eheu fugaces labuntur anni.
posted by Decani at 12:24 PM on May 3, 2012


I didn't know Gloria was sick.
posted by griphus at 12:28 PM on May 3, 2012


Can we get an outlay of how much the production cost back in '49 and how much the star got paid? How much is Hoffman getting paid?
posted by spicynuts at 12:31 PM on May 3, 2012


TKTS line is the best for plays. Tickets usually start lower, so half price is even more reasonable, plus you can usually skip the big line to get a play ticket.

Stars are REALLY expensive.

Yeah, I wonder what a name in a play gets, and how much that alone increases each ticket's price. Because the names certainly draw in the crowds.
posted by smackfu at 12:31 PM on May 3, 2012


I can actually put an approximate price on the pleasure various experiences give me, and going to see a good play is worth about two bottles of decent wine at best...The theatre is for rich people, again.

Or maybe theatre is for people who enjoy theatre more than a bottle of wine. CRAZY, I KNOW.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:33 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sell a limited amount of tickets by means of a hybrid lottery/auction system. You can purchase one chance at a ticket for $5. You can buy as many chances as you like, up to some maximum number of chances (say 100). If your name is picked, all of your further chances are removed from the pot before the next name is picked. Chances are only sold the day of the show, in person, to minimize the number of people buying them on spec, and winners cannot transfer their ticket to another person.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:40 PM on May 3, 2012


We saw both DEATH OF A SALESMAN (in preview) and BOOK OF MORMON in February - they were great.

Hot damn! My new play about Mitt Romney, Book of a Mormon Salesman, is gonna make it big on Broadway, baby!
posted by octobersurprise at 12:40 PM on May 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


The theatre is for rich people, again.

HEY GUESS WHAT....BROADWAY IS NOT 'THE THEATER'.

There are plenty of small venues and off broadway plays that you can get in to for anywhere from free to 10 bucks to 30 bucks to 70 bucks.
posted by spicynuts at 12:40 PM on May 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


Wow. I wouldn't pay $840 to see The Book of Mormon, and that's a GOOD play.

I can't be the only one that thinks Death of a Salesman is vastly over-rated, surely? Arthur Miller was a talented playwright, and I'm right there behind the Crucible, which was excellent, and hey, married to Marilyn Monroe, took iconic photographs, the whole deal, but...jeez, Death of a Salesman is dreck!

I understand the philosophy behind the play, so you don't have to come in and educate me on how I just don't get it, okay? I know Miller was set on casting an Everyman protagonist--not a king, hero or even a self-made Gatsby--and sure, Willy Loman certainly fits the bill and then some as not just a regular guy but a total loser as well, but DOAS is SO heavy-handed!

I mean, really, you can just hear Miller's internal dialog as he wrote this dreck: "Hey, I really want people to get what I'm doing here, so I had better name my character something obvious. Hmm, I'm thinking "Loman". LO MAN. Get it? It's like Thomas Covenant or Hiro Protagonist, only more annoying*! "

"But wait, I'm not done! I am on a naming streak. Because, really, okay, stick with me here, everybody is actually miserable in this play, I'm going to ironically name one of the kids "Happy". Let me nail that point in with a frickin' hammer."

"The second kid, I dunno, I'm not feeling it. How about we just go with...Biff. There, done! Boom. Deadline met. Sure, it sounds more like a prep-school kid than the son of an everyman, but I like that name. I had a puppy named Biff."

"Anyway, it's not like I have to worry about consistency! The critics already think I'm brilliant. I can just sit back and do nothing and they'll come up with reasons for me. They'll probably go with--lessee--'Willy Loman's inferiority complex over his perceived inadequacies leads to him attempting to ape his betters, right down to the nicknames he chooses for his sons...' Booyah."

"That's another play done. Hey, it's only 3 o'clock! Think I'll cash this hugeass check before I go home to take nude photos of my gorgeous wife. Damn, it's good to be me."

*Apparently Miller was also prescient. Explains why Monroe thought he was so hot, right?
posted by misha at 12:41 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


misha, I think it's an excellent play. I just thought this production is meh.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:42 PM on May 3, 2012


My new play about Mitt Romney, Book of a Mormon Salesman, is gonna make it big on Broadway, baby!

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID IN CASH
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:42 PM on May 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


Can someone give any color to the gradual shift of the theatre from a very egalitarian, populist pastime to (arguably) being the province of the affluent?

Television, Blockbuster, then Netflix?

Another thing is, I don't know how much the number of theaters on Broadway has increased (or has it?) but given that not only is the population of New York City much higher than it was in 1949 but advances in travel and affordability of travel probably multiply that by people passing through, or if someone at a distance (even, say, in Europe) really really wants to see a show they're much more likely to be able to get to it, by a flight or hopping in a car in a matter of hours. So many, many more people - maybe even a couple orders of magnitude more - are competing for the the tickets.
posted by XMLicious at 12:43 PM on May 3, 2012


Sell a limited amount of tickets by means of a hybrid lottery/auction system.

That's certainly a complicated system. I think people want a bit more planning than that though.

If you just want to block scalpers, it's pretty easy to just make every ticket will-call that requires providing the purchasing credit card, and then force people to go in immediately. That's how concerts do it. The Premium seats aren't just about blocking scalpers, they are about the producers making the money the scalpers would make.
posted by smackfu at 12:43 PM on May 3, 2012


TPS, I'm probably going to steal that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:44 PM on May 3, 2012


By the way, if you want to see an excellent version of this play, get the Dustin Hoffman / John Malkovich DVD version.

Not to say that Phillip Seymour Hoffman is bad, of course. But we can't all get to NYC.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:45 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


How much is Hoffman getting paid?

And for one, brief second it was 1985 again.
posted by codswallop at 12:46 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sell a limited amount of tickets by means of a hybrid lottery/auction system. You can purchase one chance at a ticket for $5. You can buy as many chances as you like, up to some maximum number of chances (say 100). If your name is picked, all of your further chances are removed from the pot before the next name is picked. Chances are only sold the day of the show, in person, to minimize the number of people buying them on spec, and winners cannot transfer their ticket to another person.

So everybody who wants to see a play has to show up in person the day of, many of whom won't even get to see it? I don't see that being very attractive.

And if the goal is to allow lower-income people to see the show, then having them gamble on tickets seem like a really bad idea. A wealthy person can toss $500 on their 100 chances and not cry too much if they don't win. A poor person would be justifiably upset if they spent even $5 (plus the opportunity cost of showing up in person) and walked away with nothing.
posted by jedicus at 12:47 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Many Broadway shows have lotteries for cheap same-day tickets. You don't have to pay, you just show up and put your name in the pot. If you win, you get the $25/30/35 tickets; if you lose, you're free to go have dinner or snatch up whatever the TKTS booth still has left.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:49 PM on May 3, 2012


I'm right there behind the Crucible, which was excellent

And you think Death of a Salesman was heavy-handed? At least no one got crushed with a rock in that one.

jeez, Death of a Salesman is dreck!

Maybe you just prefer witches to salesmen.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:49 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just go to local theaters. I go to small theaters in Philadelphia quite often and I nearly always get half price tickets for 10 to 20 dollars. Considering movie tickets are over 10 bucks I think that's a bargain.
posted by interplanetjanet at 12:55 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, one of my favorite theater experiences, even counting all the high-budget star-studded Broadway shows is still Two Gentlemen of Lebowski. The actors didn't get enough practice, the direction was a little wonky, the sound was off and the chairs were incredibly uncomfortable (seriously, Red Room, what the hell?) and yet it was just such a rewarding experience.
posted by griphus at 1:01 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Much like in many other venues, the answer is (somehow) destroy the scalpers.

The Granada Theater in Dallas has almost destroyed scalpers for that venue simply by making every ticket will call and the person picking up the ticket has to be the same as the person ordering the ticket (photo ID and credit card used required at the gate) and by using wristbands that they put on you when you get there rather than giving you a ticket at the door. No emailing tickets. No mailing tickets. It makes it extremely hard for scalpers to operate.
posted by holdkris99 at 1:06 PM on May 3, 2012


I feel like the interesting issue here isn't the broad-strokes "how did Broadway get so expensive?" question about the economics of theater more generally. (Obviously that's a fine discussion itself, and there's something to be said about the way entertainment prices can be more polarized, with a wider spread between say movie tickets and premium Broadway shows, in a climate of increasing wealth inequality; it's just not very revealing about "Salesman" specifically.) But this play's ascendance really would be a good subject for a reflective critic to analyze: the question of how watching Miller specifically, rather than Spider-Man or the Producers, became a status signifier, an act of pious, serious, Certified Good Taste cultural consumption. It is, as Siegel observes, pretty interesting that a play that's about trying to understand (romanticized) working-class masculinity has become a way of showing that you don't have working-class taste. But Siegel's smarmy, glib piece, with its offhand swipe at Miller as a supposed "elite intellectual," isn't a very good start to that discussion.
posted by RogerB at 1:15 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


misha, I think it's an excellent play. I just thought this production is meh.


roomthreeseventeen,
Was there a specific weakness you could put your finger on?
Or was it simply not a production that blew your socks off, overall...

(I'm a fan of the play too - but I can see some obvious danger areas.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:18 PM on May 3, 2012


A poor person would be justifiably upset if they spent even $5 (plus the opportunity cost of showing up in person) and walked away with nothing.

That's a valid point.

Many Broadway shows have lotteries for cheap same-day tickets. You don't have to pay, you just show up and put your name in the pot.

Didn't know that, but I like it. It's how the Boston Red Sox (used to?) sell the very desirable tickets on top of the Green Monster. You had to win a lottery just for the chance to buy the tickets. They were not cheap, but not outrageous for premium seats at Fenway.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:25 PM on May 3, 2012



Moderately tangential, but PSH is awesome as a neurotic theater director in the movie "Synecdoche, New York" where his character directed a revival of "Death of A Salesman" using young actors. Prices were not depicted.

The movie is wonderful, the play...eh. Maybe out of its time in this era, like Neil Simon comedies; not new enough to be topical, not old enough to be a testament.

Time does make hypocrites of us all.
posted by lon_star at 1:29 PM on May 3, 2012


Was there a specific weakness you could put your finger on?

Yup. In the first scene, Hoffman has been directed to play it (or has chosen to play it) with zero energy. His lines are completely flat. If Willy is dead to begin with, you have nowhere to go. It's very off putting.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:31 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I don't recall the mid-80's revival starring Dustin Hoffman being particularly affordable, either.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:33 PM on May 3, 2012


Everyone here is acting like Broadway is the only kind of theatre out there. It isn't. Moderately priced live shows are going on ALL AROUND YOU and often for as little as it costs to go to a movie. Even in New York City, you can catch a show in a black box theatre for $20 a ticket. Is Phillip Seymore Hoffman gonna be playing the lead? No, of course not. But it'll be live theatre, and if you pick well, it might even be great live theatre.

This is like complaining that Mercedes are SO EXPENSIVE and saying that's proof that all cars are now overpriced.
posted by incessant at 1:38 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


think it's an excellent play. I just thought this production is meh.

Did they forget to cast the old people with young actors?
posted by Theta States at 1:43 PM on May 3, 2012


As a former publicist for a small Equity theater company in my hometown, just wanted to Nth the observation that the economics of Broadway are not the same as those of smaller theaters. If you want to see a Broadway show, it's going to be expensive. Even tickets for the bus-and-truck companies that tour Broadway shows to largish theaters in cities other than New York tend to be pricey, because of the need to offer splashy production values, the expense of touring, etc., and of course the performing rights to a big hit show are expensive, too.

On the other hand, if you just want to see some live theater, there's plenty of interesting and entertaining work happening off- and off-off-Broadway, in regional and local repertory theaters, in smaller companies located in big cities, and sometime even in college and community theater groups, and the ticket prices usually are orders of magnitude lower than on Broadway.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 1:59 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


A good time to bring up one of my favorite bits of painful Hollywood trivium. As described at IMDB

[For the 1951 film] Columbia made another movie, a short film entitled "Life of a Salesman" to be shown with it. The short consisted of business professors from City College praising sales as a profession, and denouncing the character of Willy Loman. Miller wrote: "Never in show-business history has a studio spent so much good money to prove that its feature film was pointless."
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:00 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


My new play about Mitt Romney, Book of a Mormon Salesman, is gonna make it big on Broadway, baby!

Cast fired nightly!
posted by dhartung at 2:03 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


lon_star: that was the first thing that I thought of upon hearing about this. "Synecdoche, New York", which I dearly loved, made me actually want to see Caden's Death production. It was such a great parallel for Caden's psyche: casting young people because we all know that even young people all end up in the same place where Willie (and Caden, self-fulfilling) end up years later or in the next minute.
posted by dios at 2:17 PM on May 3, 2012


given that not only is the population of New York City much higher than it was in 1949 but advances in travel and affordability of travel probably multiply that by people passing through

Yeah. I don't know anything about this, but I have a hunch that a comparison between income distribution in Manhattan in 1949 and now, and the percentage of wealthy tourists going to shows then vs now, would be instructive.
posted by junco at 2:22 PM on May 3, 2012


but given that not only is the population of New York City much higher than it was in 1949

Not to dismiss your point entirely, but this is wrong. From wikipedia:

Population of NYC 1950: 7,891,957
Population of NYC 2010: 8,175,133

Population of Manhattan 1910 (Peak): 2,331,542
Population of Manhattan 2010: 1,585,873

Most established western urban cities have had stable populations for a while. In fact, many cities saw a peak in population around 1950 before the arrival of suburbanization. Growth in Paris, London, and New York has been in metro areas.
posted by Alex404 at 2:37 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't be the only one that thinks Death of a Salesman is vastly over-rated, surely?

I had an insight into Death of a Salesman a few years ago that I've never seen in print. It is simply this:

Willy Loman is not the main character of the play. The play is about Biff.

Miller was roughly Biff's age when he wrote it, and Biff is the only character with a story arc at all. He has been away from home a while and returns as an adult with a mission: to confront his childhood and leave it behind.

As a person who has experienced life he now recognizes not just his father's betrayal of his mother but also the continuous stream of bullshit he was fed as a kid. Arriving home he finds himself falling back into same pattern he grew up in: it takes the disastrous job interview to snap him out of it, after which he goes to his father and attempts to have a grown-up conversation.

His father cannot do it. Biff tries to explain the job situation but he father will not give up the fantasy he had created in Biff's youth and is incredulous that Biff is denying it. It is every conversation a young adult has ever tried to have with their family about a toxic childhood. Biff wants to connect with someone, to talk about it, but Willy is a wreck, Linda is in denial, and Happy is well on his way to creating the same family system all over again.

Biff's reaction to his father's death is relief. He is finally unstuck and able to continue his journey into adulthood.

In this view of the play, Willy's purpose is to provide context for the man Biff has become as well as to be the ... not villian, precisely ... that Biff needs to deal with. By the end his has escaped a family of liars to become an honest man, which for me makes this a much happier play than most people take it for.

--------------

I've always thought there was a lot of room for a sequel there. When Biff gets over his father he's still going to want some answers from his mother about why she let it go on. She has enough denial for a lifetime to work through and is generally presented as weak. In the meantime you could do something really interesting with Happy by having him unexpectedly fall in love with a strong woman who wouldn't put up with his bullshit.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:56 PM on May 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


Now I'm just thinking about all the theatres and stages I performed on in the 00s and how they're all gone now and I am depressed again.
posted by The Whelk at 2:58 PM on May 3, 2012


Several people have already said it, but for gods sake, don't equate theatre with Broadway. Her in the SF bay area, there are dozens of small theatres (30-120 seats). Most of them change around $20-25/ticket, and all most all of them allow you to "pay what you can" if you come on preview night.

And don't think that a small theatre means a poor production. While I've seen my share of amateurish acting, there have also shows that beat the pants of the larger LORT (Equity) theatres as well.

If you think it's not affordable, you're not looking hard enough.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:12 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those who I know who write high-end theater -- who are of course fairly liberal -- justify to themselves the fact that only the rich can afford to see their work by pointing out that the traveling repertories are generally much cheaper. You pay a premium to be in New York watching a big-ticket actor in the main role, but the performance itself isn't fundamentally different. Of course, this only holds for the biggest shows, usually just musicals.

What drives me crazy as someone who would like to see the big plays but can't afford to is how the industry is so dead-set against selling videos of the performances. Years after a show is over, it's ridiculous to fear that the video will somehow cut into profits (although I guess they often hold out hopes for a movie deal for decades; and yes I know the role the unions play in this). Even those PBS videos have all but disappeared, and it drives me crazy to think that these things are all archived at Lincoln Center, but no one is allowed to watch them except under the most stringent research-only conditions. It's not just that I'm selfish, it's a serious destruction of art to deny all those people who would love to see this stuff the chance. And it's not just me -- check out the underground efforts to share (usually very low-quality) bootlegs of broadway shows to see the unmet demand, particularly among those unserved even by the repertory visits. (Who of course are also usually in places with little or no local theater.)
posted by chortly at 3:22 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


The theatre is for rich people, again. There was a time there when it was affordable, but that time appears to have gone.

*waving frantically from further south than Broadway *

Hey! Guess what! There are twice as many off-Broadway venues and hundreds of off-off-Broadway venues in New York City, and lots of them are just as good! And they're way way cheaper!

THEATER IS NOT JUST FOR THE RICH! AN INDIE THEATER SCENE EXISTS! We exist, dammit! Come see us instead!....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:23 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


We exist, dammit! Come see us instead!....

Dude, can't hear you over the sound of the explosions.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:45 PM on May 3, 2012


The theatre is for rich people, again. There was a time there when it was affordable, but that time appears to have gone.

Just one more voice echoing EmpressCallipygos and spicynuts: I've been producing Shakespeare (and other classic) plays in NYC for ten years. Tickets for my shows have ranged from free to $18. The generally don't have movie stars in them, but they have highly-trained classical actors, including a few you might recognize from "Law and Order" and other shows.

I go see a lot of theatre, and though there are occasional gems on Broadway, I'd say the quality is generally worse than with the cheaper shows -- unless you care more about seeing expensive sets and movie stars than great acting.
posted by grumblebee at 3:59 PM on May 3, 2012


I dunno. I saw Lend Me a Tenor (Bartha/Shalhoub/etc)--front-row seats--and two tickets were less than $200. That was at the Music Box. Saw A Behanding in Spokane (Walken) for same, third- or fourth-row seats. Saw Seminar (Rickman) for similar, same prices, same seats. So I don't know. Maybe it's only the really "big" shows that are so expensive. I mean, ~>$100 for a show isn't small potatoes, but it isn't omgomgINSANE either.
posted by exlotuseater at 4:16 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just one more voice echoing EmpressCallipygos and spicynuts: I've been producing Shakespeare (and other classic) plays in NYC for ten years. Tickets for my shows have ranged from free to $18.

grumblebee,
What's the best review site for off/off off/ off off off... Broadway shows in the city?
I take your point entirely about overall quality on Broadway - but it can be daunting going shopping for theater tickets in NYC when you're not up on individual companies.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 4:25 PM on May 3, 2012


Broadway is so crazy expensive because it's primarily a tourist attraction. People go to a Broadway show instead of going to Disney World.

Local theater isn't expensive. Local theater is usually about the same as the movies. Go to local theater if you want a theater fix, not a peek at a movie star. If you're in New York, there is tons of great theater happening all over the city for $10-$40.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:38 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's the best review site for off/off off/ off off off... Broadway shows in the city?

I would recommend nytheatre.com.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:49 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Seconding nytheatre.com for New York theater reviews of all stripes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:28 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always thought there was a lot of room for a sequel there

Death Of A Salesman Two: The EnBiffening.

"Attention Will Be Paid: In Full!"
posted by yoink at 6:22 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, my brief rant about videorecording plays holds equally if not more for small productions. It would be an awesome world indeed if the standard practice was to put up a video of your black-box production a few weeks after it ended. Not only would this be great for viewers, I think it would do wonders for the reputations of hundreds of working actors. While I realize there are artistic defenses of ephemerality, thinking of all those great little productions every damn week disappearing as soon as they appear is painful, particularly in this era when making videos is so trivially easy.
posted by chortly at 7:51 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The middle class will see anything they want and pay whatever it costs.

They will do so as they have done for many years, credit cards.
posted by pianomover at 8:06 PM on May 3, 2012


This revival is a perfect storm of sorts of "what makes a ticket expensive." It's a limited run, which means the infinitely flexible demand for tickets is vying for a strictly finite number of seats. It's in a sense a star-driven production, with the stars here being Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Mike Nichols. And it's a version of the "Snob Hit" defined by William Goldman in his 1969 analysis of Broadway The Season. That is, this revival is something you simply must see because otherwise everyone you know is going to look down their noses at you as a stupid clod. Seeing this Death of a Salesman, in other words, provides bona fides of one's upper-middlebrow intellectual status. There are thousands and thousands of people in New York City who define themselves by their "participation in the city's intellectual life," as guided by various cultural arbiters such as the Arts section of the New York Times (which, not so incidentally, has been slobbering all over this revival since long before it opened.)

There are a lot of people in New York with vast amounts of discretionary income, and a much larger group of people who are willing to overextend themselves financially for the purpose of procuring status. So that's where all those very expensive tickets are being sold.

Death of a Salesman specifically is an attractive play to well-fixed audiences because they can interpret it as a comfortable lie, i.e., "my own father was just like Willy Loman and that's why he never seemed to love me, and thank goodness I myself will never be like Willy Loman."

I haven't seen this revival as I rather detest the play to begin with (see: the comfortable lie, above), and, more to the point, I don't quite understand the point of doing a new production of so overly familiar a work unless the director is going to find a different take on it, which Nichols most deliberately has not. (He even boasts about using 60-something old set designs and incidental music.) But that's a different argument.
posted by La Cieca at 10:39 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I'd rather watch Glengarry Glen Ross for the billionth time.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:05 AM on May 4, 2012


While I realize there are artistic defenses of ephemerality, thinking of all those great little productions every damn week disappearing as soon as they appear is painful, particularly in this era when making videos is so trivially easy.

Well, it's not a video site, but actually...the man who founded the nytheatre.com web site has branched out a bit and has started a couple other projects to foster off-off-Broadway theater as more of a permanent thing; there's a move to get people to see it as "Indie" theater (kind of like, we're the Sundance of the theater world or something). One of these projects is a site where you can buy the e-book script version of plays for your Kindle/Nook/iPad/etc., for only a couple bucks a pop. (You can't print them - if you really dig it and want to produce it, there's a link for you to contact the playwright.) The site is pretty carefully curated - only new and unpublished plays, only plays that the site's founder or people he trusts have seen and can vouch for -- but there are still over 300 plays that did great off-off-Broadway, and they're adding more all the time.

(Full disclaimer: he approached my own company to ask us to select a few such plays from our own history for inclusion; we're stll chasing down playwrights so the full collection isn't up yet, but a couple plays are already up.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:19 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would be an awesome world indeed if the standard practice was to put up a video of your black-box production a few weeks after it ended. Not only would this be great for viewers, I think it would do wonders for the reputations of hundreds of working actors. While I realize there are artistic defenses of ephemerality, thinking of all those great little productions every damn week disappearing as soon as they appear is painful, particularly in this era when making videos is so trivially easy.

It has little to do with "artistic defenses of ephemerality." It has to do with legality. Unless the script is in the public domain, you have to purchase rights to film it, which impossible given the budget of small companies. Even with public domain stuff, off-off Broadway show often use actors who are in the Screen Actors Guild, which means they'd have to be paid at least scale to work in your movie. It's simply not affordable.

Added to that, if you just stick a camera in the back of the theatre, the result is almost unwatchable (not to mention unlistenable). If you're going to film it, you really have to FILM it. You need multiple cameras, editing, etc. Take a look at some of the high-school productions on YouTube if you want to see the crap that ensues from single-cameras-in-the-back. Compare those to the Broadway shows that sometimes appear on PBS (e.g. Sondheim musicals) which are professionally shot.

Given all that, it's a lovely dream, and it's something my company keeps talking about. We just haven't found a way to make it work.
posted by grumblebee at 7:07 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A side-point to Grumblebee's above (and I'm only 85% certain of this, so someone correct me if I'm wrong) -

Even with public domain stuff, off-off Broadway show often use actors who are in the Screen Actors Guild, which means they'd have to be paid at least scale to work in your movie.

For the record, the people who'd have memberships in the Screen Actors' Guild would probably be people who got a SAG membership to get a three-second gig as an extra in some episode of Law and Order (stating that so you don't think we're, like, importing talent from L.A. or anything).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:17 AM on May 4, 2012


A few more years and you'll be able to rent a quadcopter camera fleet by the hour for a paltry sum and the annoying thing will be programming in all the camera angles. (Well, and editing, but that can be delayed for years.) The rights thing does seem like quite a roadblock, though... maybe, if the video were put together initially as a souvenir for the cast and crew, something like a Kickstarter project could fund buying the rights to release it publicly? Or are there contractual things that prohibit you from even attempting to film it before the moolah is ponied up?
posted by XMLicious at 7:20 AM on May 4, 2012


Both the actors' unions, Screen Actors' Guild and Actors' Equity, have injunctions against filming theatrical performances except in very specific circumstances.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:21 AM on May 4, 2012


Ah, too bad.
posted by XMLicious at 7:25 AM on May 4, 2012


Yes, if you do a certain amount of TV background work -- and it's not a large amount -- you MUST join SAG* if you want to work again. (And it's not cheap.)

*until recently, you had to join AFTRA, but SAG and AFTRA have merged.

EmpressCallipygos is right. You can't just film a production as a souvenir. You could get into trouble for doing that. Union control of theatre in NYC is extremely tight.
posted by grumblebee at 7:42 AM on May 4, 2012


Sorry if it looks like we're tag-teaming on this, grumblebee, I just keep thinking of things that can clarify for those outside the biz --

The "certain circumstances" involved in filming are things like

a) the director is filming a copy of the show for their own reference (i.e., they will only use it at home to keep notes about how they dealt with thus-and-such a production, and maybe once in a while will show it to their significant other),

b) a copy is being given to some archive (the Lincoln Center Public Libary is the biggest one - they do keep videotaped copies of all Broadway and select off-Broadway productions, and anyone in the public can make an appointment to go in and watch, say, the 1980's revival of Guys and Dolls that starred Nathan Lane), or

c) they make a deal with the unions that involves paying everyone in the cast what the unions say actors should be paid for film/tv.


I'm sure that option C is what happened when Spike Lee filmed the final performance of Passing Strange; that is a film that anyone in the public can pick up on DVD, if you're interested (it actually was a fantastic show and I am kicking myself for not having seen it live). If you think about it, though, it protects the actors and the performances themselves - the income from off-off-Broadway ticket sales is diddleysquat as it is, and if you have some putz come along and say "eh, why bother paying $20 for a ticket when I can just watch the video Sid made for free," that screws some really poor people over even more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:52 AM on May 4, 2012


By the way, the contract EmpressCallipygos (I assume) and I work under is called the Equity Showcase. It allows us to cast union actors without paying them. It's strange for a union (the union being Actors' Equity) to allow their members to work for no pay, but they're dealing with the reality that there are only enough jobs for 2% of their members at any given time. If they forbade free work, most actors wouldn't have any acting opportunities at all.

So they allow us to "employ" their actors but not pay them. They idea is that Showcases (the technical term for off-off-Broadway shows) are advertisements (showcases) for their talent. But Equity is worried that we'll rake in a profit and not share it with the actors. Or that we'll guilt them into staying with our shows for months and months. So they place a lot of stipulations on Showcases. We can't charge more than $18 for tickets; we can't play for more than 14 performances; we can't play in theatres with over 99 seats; we can't rehearse for over six weeks; etc.

By the way, I would LOVE to pay the actors. Most of my friends are actors, and I'm married to one. I simply don't have the funds. But even without paying them, each of my productions costs about $10,000. Theatre rental alone is about $6000. And I have to also pay for rehearsal space, props, costumes, publicity, etc. I usually recoup about a fourth of the money in ticket sales and fund the rest through donations -- mostly donations by me. Half my salary goes to doing theatre. I'm not even remotely complaining. This is the life I chose, and I would choose it again. I'm just explaining the economics of off-off-Broadway.

(Broadway has it's own hurdles. I once worked on a Broadway show as assistant director. We were rehearsing in this rundown place, because even Broadway shows are strapped for cash. We had all the actual props, which was great, because it was a prop-heavy show. We were slated to move into the theatre a week before the show was to start previews, but then we were told that the show before us was going to close early, so, if we wanted, we could rehearse for TWO weeks in the theatre, which would be amazing!

There was a catch. IF we moved into the theatre early, we'd have to rehearse for the first week without our props. The rules is, that if you're using the show's props in the show's theatre, you must have a Propmaster's Union rep there, and we couldn't afford one for the extra week. So we had to choose between being in the theatre without our props or being in the crummy rehearsal hall with our props. We chose the latter, and the big Broadway theatre sat empty for a week.

One more story: one of the lead actors was a week late for rehearsals because the Hollywood movie he was in ran into production overtime. Our producers called the studio and said, "He's contractually obligated to be in NYC for the first rehearsal." The Hollywoods people basically said, "You can bite us." They told us to go ahead and sue them or the actor if we wanted to. They were a big studio and we were a little Broadway show. If we sued and won, they'd pay the peanuts we'd win from them. Meanwhile, they were keeping our actor until they were done with him.)

I once flirted with the idea of jumping up to the next-level contract and actually paying my actors. I think Union scale back then was about $350 dollars a week. I thought I'd do a two-actor show, so that would be $700 a week for ten weeks (six weeks of rehearsal plus four weeks of performance). Expensive, but I thought I could raise it. Then I learned that if I paid the actors, I was required to hire two union stage managers and pay them the same amount. So that doubled my expenses. Then I found out I had to pay insurance and workman's comp. The expenses kept mounting and mounting, until I realized it would cost me something like $50,000 to do a two-actor show that ran for a month.

Worse, Equity has a clause that says once you do a non-showcase, you can never do a showcase again. That's not quite true. I think you have year after your paying show where you can still do showcases. But, basically, they say, "You somehow afforded to pay actors once. We expect you to do that in the future." That put the kibosh on the whole thing. I can't raise $50,000 for every show. (I produce two a year.)

It's kind of insane. If someone wrote me a check for $50,000, and I WANTED to share the money with the actors (which is exactly what I'd want to do with it), I couldn't -- not without destroying my theatre company.
posted by grumblebee at 8:12 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yep, it's the Equity showcase.

Although I'm not sure about that "not paying the actors" bit - because I always got some stipend from my showcase gigs, and this was as dicated by Equity. The bare minimum is "reimburse everyone for their subway fare to and from the rehearsals and performances," so there were a couple early shows where I got "paid" with a Metrocard. But mostly it was a couple hundred bucks, paid on closing night.

But what Grumblebee says about the Union saying "if you could afford to pay people once, your company can afford to do it again" is indeed true. (Although, lest everyone now have an evil opinion of Equity - they also do a lot for its members, like hiring a lawyer for me when I discovered that the producer for the show where I threw my back out hadn't gotten worker's comp insurance and was also refusing to pay my doctor. The producer backed down, my doctor got paid, and Equity made a quiet note never to let that guy produce again.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 AM on May 4, 2012


I think the stipend you're talking about is travel reimbursement, which is indeed a requirement.

I have mixed feelings about AEA, probably because I'm both a producer and a sometimes actor who is friends with many actors. I am grateful for the work the union does to protect my friends, though, I have to say, most of them seem to just pay union dues and get nothing in return. They don't even get insurance unless they work a certain number of hours a year, and they can't control how many hours the work. If they don't get cast, they don't get cast. Still, for actors who ARE working, the union can be very helpful.

The flip side is that they make things really hard for small producers. And many of those producers are their own members. Basically, if two union actors are out of work and want to produce their own show, just so they're doing SOMETHING, the union makes it hard for them to do so without losing a lot of money.

I totally understand that the union can't have producers making a profit without sharing it with the actors, but they are SO stringent in their rules about the number of performances and the ticket prices, they make it virtually impossible for off-off-Broadway productions to break even. I expect to lose $5,000 of my own money on every show.

Every year, I worry I won't be able to afford that. If I can't, I'll go out of business. If I go out of business, a lot of union members will be affected. They won't be affected monetarily, since I don't pay them, but I've been doing this for ten years, and I've made it possible for countless actors to play great roles. If the union puts me out of business, those roles will be gone.

Mostly, I think this comes down to AEA being understaffed. There should be a way I could go to them, show them my balance sheet, and get exemptions from some of their rules. But they don't have the staff to review each show on that level, so they just make blanket rules.
posted by grumblebee at 8:30 AM on May 4, 2012


This is rapidly turning in to an inside-baseball thing (read: I'm instinctively wanting to turn it into one) so I'll email you my next thoughts, Grumblebee.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 AM on May 4, 2012


FWIW, I'm enjoying reading about the inside-baseball type stuff.

most of them seem to just pay union dues and get nothing in return

It's funny you mention insurance in the statement that follows this one, because that's kinda how I feel about insurance companies -- until I actually need them, I feel like I'm throwing money down a hole and getting nothing in return.
posted by inigo2 at 8:44 AM on May 4, 2012


I'll email you my next thoughts, Grumblebee

No, no, it's fine. There's no one in here but you two, so keep on talking.

/goes back to enjoying the thread while hiding behind the scrim/
posted by Rock Steady at 8:51 AM on May 4, 2012


FWIW, I'm enjoying reading about the inside-baseball type stuff.

Sorry, nothing super-fancy -- just the name of a guy who at some point was trying to get a group together to negotiate with the union for new terms that would cut the smaller producers some slack. And to link it back to the discussion at hand - this was part of the move to "re-brand" the smaller theater scene as "Independent theater".

And on behalf of Grumblebee and myself, I'd like to say: a lot of the smalller theaters are really, really struggling now. We all took a massive hit in the months following 9/11 -- a number of companies had shows that were in venues inside the "frozen zone," where people couldn't get to, and so they lost a lot of potential revenue on top of the lost expenses from renting the venue, etc. My own company lost a week's revenue from being in the frozen zone that first week. And then through the mid-00's, there were city budget cuts, so we lost revenue as well. And in 2008 we were FINALLY starting to get to where we'd been economically in 2001 - only to get slammed by the economy again. And we are far from the only company in such a position.

And this morning I heard that part of the means Bloomberg used to balance the city budget was to slash arts funding even more.

So if you're bothered by the huge prices on Broadway? Seriously look into smaller theater. Time Out NY has a fairly good selection of the off-off-Broadway shows each week (the print version seems to list only the ones it likes, under a heading marked "Good Odds"), and the aforementioned nytheatre.com has as comprehensive a listing of theater in the city as you could ever need, and reviews just about everything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 AM on May 4, 2012


And to bring this back within shouting distance of the Death of a Salesman topic - you will not find another production of Salesman in New York right now. That's another legal thing - the company that grants the rights to each producing body keeps its own strict limits on who can get the rights when, so as to avoid "dueling Salesmen" kinds of scenarios (i.e., seeing it on Broadway for $100 a ticket vs. seeing it at that weird venue two flights up from the vodka bar on Bleecker Street for only $20 a ticket).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:02 AM on May 4, 2012


"you will not find another production of Salesman in New York right now."

A few years ago, I decided to produce Harold Pinter play called "Old Times." No one, then, was doing Pinter in NYC. But shortly into pre-production, he won the Nobel Prize. I was pleased at first, thinking this would help publicity. Then I got a call from Pinter's agent saying they were forbidding me to do the show.

I said that I had a contract, which I did. They said I hadn't read the small print. Which I hadn't.

The contract stated that if a Broadway producer wanted rights to the show, they could revoke mine. Apparently, someone (Mike Nichols?) had optioned the show. They refunded the money I'd paid for rights, but, other than that, I and the actors who'd been rehearsal (and who'd passed up other roles to be in my show) were shit out luck.

And, as it happened, the Broadway production never moved forward. So there was no production of "Old Times" that year.

I realize this is a rare happening, but it made me gun-shy of any play that wasn't written by a dead white male in public domain.
posted by grumblebee at 9:13 AM on May 4, 2012


I guess Pinter is a dead white male, now. But his play aren't in public doman.

Yay Shakespeare!
posted by grumblebee at 9:13 AM on May 4, 2012


A little something for the inside-baseball crowd - I once worked on a production that had the opposite luck to grumblebee's above. In 1998, I got hired to stage manage a production of Hurlyburly with a company I'd worked with a few months before.

Somewhere in passing, they told me about getting the rights for that production -- apparently, the publishing company was going to be withholding all rights to production for the next year or so, so as not to clash with the film version. However - our company had just managed to apply for rights in time, right before that blackout happened. So, we were the very last chance people could see Hurlyburly live before having to wait for the movie; the next live production after that wasn't until 2005.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on May 4, 2012


Rather late to returning to this... but in any case, as I tried to suggest in my first post, I'm quite aware of the role that the unions and copyright law currently play in making videorecordings unfeasible (I have numerous friends who write, direct, or act in NYC). My interest was less in what is currently possible than what *ought* to be done. There is a huge inefficiency whenever copyright (or union) law prevents artistic works from being produced (such as video recordings) in favor of protecting rights for products that never happen. It seems to me that the vast majority of new plays will never be produced as movies, even those that are actually optioned, and protecting actors from being exploited is equally wasteful when many of them, especially on the low end, are paid very little and might benefit much more from video exposure than they would lose by not getting a tiny sliver of non-existant video profits. But I don't work in the industry, so this is just my second-row-seats impression. In any case, given the ubiquity of tiny, high-quality video recording devices, setting up three iphones (or whatever) around the stage and roughly editing it together would be a pretty easy way to produce something that was, if not closeups-on-Peters-and-Patinkin quality, quite watchable.
posted by chortly at 2:30 PM on May 4, 2012


octobersurprise: I'm right there behind the Crucible, which was excellent

And you think Death of a Salesman was heavy-handed? At least no one got crushed with a rock in that one.

jeez, Death of a Salesman is dreck!

Maybe you just prefer witches to salesmen.


You know, I do!
posted by misha at 6:41 PM on May 4, 2012


This is rapidly turning in to an inside-baseball thing (read: I'm instinctively wanting to turn it into one) so I'll email you my next thoughts, Grumblebee.

I come to metafilter specifically for inside-baseball like this. Carry on. :)
posted by Theta States at 6:15 AM on May 7, 2012


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