Monday, December 29, 2008

Contagious Good Will

Chestnut, Part I
One bright blue day before Christmas, I turned on the radio in the car and heard Handel's "Messiah," one of those intricate and powerful choruses: "And He Shall Purify" I think it was. Right away, I was filled with pleasure--and regret. I had deliberately chosen not to attend the Richmond Symphony's annual performance of the "Messiah," thinking that I would be bored by this so familiar work.

Possibly the unexpected encounter was half the delight, but I resolved to attend a live performance of the "Messiah" next year--or maybe this Easter, if Richmond is lucky enough to see a good church performance at the work's rightful time of year.

Later in the day, recalling my happiness at hearing at least part of the piece on the radio, I thought that if I were to win the lottery, I would sponsor a RSO "Messiah" performance with free or pay-as-you-wish tickets. (I've never bought a lottery ticket in my life, so don't get your hopes up.) But I did consider calling the symphony to ask how much it would cost to sponsor one. I also wondered how much the symphony would take in if they just ditched the tickets and had an all-donation performance. Would the number of conscientious people of means make up for the number of people attending for free or cheap, who wouldn't have come otherwise?

Chestnut, Part II
On the Saturday after Christmas, my mother took my children and me to an afternoon performance of "A Christmas Carol" by the Theater of the Seventh Sister in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I had deliberately chosen not to attend Richmond Shakespeare's annual performance of the "A Christmas Carol for Two Actors," thinking that I would be bored by this so familiar work.

Guess what? I was re-delighted, of course! And re-regret-filled, since Richmond Shakespeare's (own, much different) version has finished an 11-year run and won't be back, I think.

And: the Seventh Sister production was pay-as-you-wish for its full run.

It was an excellent adaptation for about a dozen actors by TSS Co-artistic Director Gary Smith, using Dickens' original words almost entirely. The costumes were perfect; the set and props neatly, creatively adaptable; the actors enthralling. The house was slightly more than half full.

Smith introduced the performance with an explanation of the relationship between Dickens' message in the story and the pay-as-you-wish approach; that when times are tight, the better response is to open outward rather than curl inward.

There was no mercurial post-play request for donations--not even a discreet but visible donation box in the lobby on the way out. It was as if TSS had complete faith in the power of Dickens' words and their performance to spur people on to longer-term bigness of heart, rather than merely "I'll drop a few more dollars in because I feel good after the play."

I'm very curious about the outcome of TSS's ticket experiment. Did it prove what I wished it would prove, that generosity breeds generosity?

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