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The real cost of a free seat

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MUSINGS If the audience is willing to pay to watch a dance performance, it will be easier on the dancer

There’s a lot that happens before a performance gets on stageLet’s put a value to itPhoto: AP
There’s a lot that happens before a performance gets on stageLet’s put a value to itPhoto: AP

People all over the world go to see works of art, and in a lot of these places, they pay to see these works of art.

People pay for a ticket to enter museums, to watch cinema, see theatre and to attend dance performances. In the rare event that a work of art is showcased without a ticket, the cost of that ticketless showcasing is not borne by the artists themselves.

India is peculiar in that sense. Similar to audiences in the rest of the world, Indian audiences pay to see a film or enter a museum, for instance, but dance performances are rarely ticketed – particularly classical dance performances. Audiences are so used to watching dance performances for free that paying even a small amount to watch a classical dance performance surprises them.

Audiences have never really been directed to think about what the real cost of their free seat is, or who bears that cost. It proved to be an interesting mathematical exercise to discover this.

Theatres all over India rent out their space to artists. Suppose a particular medium-sized theatre seats 215 people. To use the space for half a day, the rent is Rs. 5,000 (depending on size and repute, rent for other spaces can go up to Rs. 20,000 or even Rs. 50,000).

A dance performance usually involves music. For a classical dance performance to take place with live music, usually four musicians perform with the dancer.

Depending on where you are in the country, this fee can be between Rs.3,000-5,000 for each of the musicians. Let’s say its Rs. 3,000. That amounts to Rs.12,000.

A dance performance also involves light and sound. Unfortunately, in many cases, dancers are at the mercy of the technician for sound and light. One escapes the additional cost of a light/sound designer, but the performance suffers.

If he or she did hire a professional light and sound person, who will not make the dancer look flat and expressionless and will provide sound for musicians, the minimal cost I was able to find was Rs.5,000.

Since a dancer is also his or her own publicist, invitations might need printing and sending, a brochure might need to be designed. The cost for 120 (to fill up an auditorium that’s capacity is 215) well-designed invitations can be between Rs.10,000-15,000. Dancers often resort to designing the cards themselves and getting them printed at the local printing store to reduce costs, but if he or she were to do it properly, the average cost can be calculated at Rs. 10,000.

Not keeping in mind other costs, because they vary (whereas the ones mentioned above are constant and basic costs) such as the cost of costumes, ornamentation, sets and props, recorded music, not to mention renting rehearsal space for weeks or months of rehearsals, the costs incurred by a dancer are still shocking.

Rs. 5000 for renting the theatre, Rs. 12,000 to pay musicians, Rs. 5,000 for lighting and sound, and Rs.10,000 for publicity amounts to Rs. 32,000, which is quite a financial undertaking for a dancer. Dividing that by 215 seats in the auditorium makes us arrive at this number – 148.83. That is the cost of each seat that goes free at this classical dance performance of this size and budget.

For a dancer, Rs.150 tickets mean he or she can at least break even. And Rs. 200 tickets mean he or she makes a small means of livelihood. That’s less expensive than going to the cinema. It’s cheaper than a meal for one at a decent restaurant. We don’t think twice before spending money at a cinema or restaurant once in a while. Then why to watch a dance performance?

aranyani@gmail.com


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