The Profitability of Daily Performances in 1741-1742
This article aims to ask some methodological questions and to identify the categories needed to define the scope of such a study. These observations were presented at a workshop held in New York in October 2014.
The profitability of the performances was a constant concern for the actors, since the performances did not systematically let them clear enough profits to distribute allotted shares to each actor. This study focuses on the 1741-1742 season. During this period, only the daily profits helped pay the actors (that is to say the daily box office receipts, from which expenditures and the cumulative deficit of the previous days are removed where applicable). Indeed, small loges rented by the year, excluded from this daily income, did not yet exist - the income from small loges from the late 1750s on, to avoid paying tax, wentalmost entirely to the actors' revenues.
During this 1741-1742 season, we distinguish the performances for which the troupe charged the full price from the performances for which it charged the discount price. How did the actors choose to charge a given price? For Henri Lagrave, the price is double for the first performances of new productions, the theater's closing day, and exceptional circumstances. A new regulation appears in 1732 : one third the price for the first 12 performances (the time during which the author receives a portion of the box office receipts). We are relatively confident about these pricing methods.
Overall, we find that when the price is discounted, the loges are sparsely occupied.
Overall, for performances that are not very profitable, the spectators cluster in the parterre at an admission price of 1 L, and in seats at the 2 L and 4 L categories (the 1 L 10 sol price is rarely used). The low loges are rented more than the high loges. The small number of seats sold in the 1 L 10s category does not mean that the audience deserted this type of seat. We would need to know the capacity in order to determine if that category contains few seats or if the public is not fond of it, or even if that is where guests would be normally be placed.
Performance profitability threshold
The season contains 265 performances. Can we distinguish the profitable performances from the others? Is there, in both cases, a differentiated distribution of the audience?
Comparing expenditure, revenue, and sharing, one can generally determine that the daily break-even point is 400 L. In addition, there is the possibility of generating sufficient profits for sharing, knowing that even when the performance is profitable, sharing does not necessarily occur. The profit can be used to offset the cumulative deficit of the previous performances. Finally, we find that the distribution of nightly receipts is fairly rare. Out of 265 performances in this season:
- 131 have an income of below 400 L, so half of the performances do not reach the point of equilibrium;
- 101 performances have an income of between 400 and 1000, which does not necessarily make it possible to share receipts, since the actors had to make up for the cost of deficit performances;
- 33 are good performances, with an income of more than 1000.
Let us focus on the 33 performances generating high incomes : 32 performances out of 33 are set at high prices. For almost all of these performances, the box income doubles that of the parterre or even triples or quadruples it in some cases.
A possible approach would be to model what the “beneficiary” room configuration is for actors, over a longer period of time. This season, the profitable performance seems to be the one where the box income doubles that of the parterre. Does this observation confirm itself in the long term?
Workshop New York, octobre 2014
(Trans. Marie de Azevedo)