Culture //

Why didn’t people see the faculty revues?

Mary Ward is old and is going to tell the young people what to like

In 2011, just over 1,700 students attended the Science Revue’s production of NASAblanca.

It was a turnout that saw the Seymour Centre’s York theatre (with a capacity of 781) comfortably full across the show’s three-night run.

Five years later, the Science Revue’s production of It Came from Planet Space played in the same venue for the same number of nights, but only 1,099 tickets were purchased.

The Science Revue has seen this trend for a few years now. The first big drop in sales occurred in 2014, when 1,338 tickets were sold after the revue managed to move 1,699 tickets in 2013. In 2015 that number dropped again, to 1,209 sales. This year, another hundred or so ticket sales dropped off.

But the Science Revue is by no means alone in its struggles to get bums on seats at the York.

Anyone who remembers the days of selling your legacy Torts and Contracts II notes for one of the last remaining tickets to the 2014 Law Revue would have been surprised to see the theatre’s side sections virtually empty on Royal Commission: Impossible’s Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday performances (although its production team was unable to provide exact ticket sales, the Friday performance was, anecdotally, better attended).

Your correspondent witnessed the emptiness firsthand on the Saturday night, and can report that the only occupant of the two side areas was former High Court Justice, Professor William Gummow. He left before intermission.

In the same week, The Arts Revue Games opened to a half-empty Everest Theatre. Although the record-keeping at Arts appears to be less meticulous than at the Science Revue, producer Clare Cavanagh told Honi she believes the show sold “maybe 175 [fewer tickets] than last year”.

Also playing at the Everest Theatre (which seats 513) was the Commerce Revue, The Rise and Fall of Bliss Industries. Producers Robyn Lu and Emma Wiltshire did not have exact figures, but said ticket sales “probably [had] decreased”.

Smaller revues were not immune: the Education Revue, A Schoolbus Named Desire, opened with 88 empty seats in the 153-seat Reginald Theatre. It peaked on the Friday with 107 tickets sold, before playing closing night to an audience of 92.

Some revue production teams flouted Seymour Centre policy by having $10 flash sales for the (usually $15) tickets, just to get rid of the paper tickets they had allocated for on-campus sales.

Of course, ticket sales fluctuate for various reasons. When Honi contacted the producers of each of the faculty revues that played at the Seymour Centre,[1] a couple mentioned having slightly smaller cast sizes than usual.

Education Revue producer Meredith Apps, whose show only had a cast of 15, said it was “hard to compete” with a lot of the larger revues like Science and Med,[2] adding that the revue season being scheduled so close to the Sydney Fringe Festival could have had an effect.

The SUDS Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, playing across two weeks of the season was cited by other producers as a possible factor, however, with the Cellar Theatre seating roughly 50 people, it probably wasn’t.

For Law Revue co-director Kieran Hoyle, while the shift in numbers could be attributed to the cost of living in Sydney or the rise of alternate forms of entertainment, the true explanation is probably more micro.

In his three years of physically spruiking tickets to the Law Revue on Eastern Avenue, Hoyle said he has noticed an “increased aversion” to buying tickets with cash, while online sales are up. However, this shift leaves revues in the position of battling the Facebook algorithm to have their event and promo content (usually videos) appear in potential audience members’ feeds.

“Facebook is becoming increasingly congested, and it’s not as reliable as it used to be as a publicity tool,” he said.

Despite the tough season faced by the faculty revues, it seems amiss to say that revue culture is on the decline at Sydney University.

The USU’s new Identity Revue season (bringing together the newly resurrected Wom*n’s Revue and newly formed ACAR Revue with the established Jew and Queer Revues) in semester one could not be described as anything but a success.

The Wom*n’s Revue sold out in advance. Queer Revue sold out one of its three nights, and nearly did so on the others, and numbers were similar for Jew and ACAR. However, the venues used by the identity revue season were smaller (Seymour Centre shows were in the Reginald, while the ACAR Revue remained off-campus, opting for the 100-seat King Street Theatre), and they had the advantage of running in their own week over the four-week season, meaning they did not need to compete with other revues for audience members.

With such short seasons, it only took a retail shift on the Thursday and a 21st on the Saturday to leave a revue fan choosing between seeing the Commerce Revue or the Science Revue this year. Which is a shame because both – and, in fact, the entire 2016 Faculty Revue Season – seemed to be of the usual (high) standard: some jokes went one line too long, some dance numbers based on Avatar the Last Airbender left you scratching your head, but, overwhelmingly, revues are still a good night out.

It’s just a matter of finding them a worthy audience.

[1] The Engineering Revue returned to Manning Bar this year.

[2] The Med Revue producers did not respond to Honi’s request for ticket numbers. Anecdotally, with the largest cast of the season – the revue is something of a bonding activity for the faculty’s first years – it had the fewest empty seats.