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Audience advice sought on Strictly Ballroom


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Creativity usually involves inspiration, sweat and tears, but now it also means focus groups.

Global Creatures, the producers of the stage show Strictly Ballroom the Musical, have hired a research company to run a focus group with audience members next week in Sydney.

Those who have seen the show at the Lyric Theatre at the Star casino complex in recent weeks have been invited to participate in a “group discussion’’ about the show. Presumably their advice will percolate to Baz Luhrmann, its director, whose singular vision fuelled the hit 1992 film on which the stage musical is based, as well as the films Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Australia and The Great Gatsby.

Research company IER will conduct the session. “On the evening we will be discussing different aspects of Strictly Ballroom the Musical,’’ the emailed invitation says.

Those who take up the offer to spend 90 minutes of their time on Thursday will be treated to snacks, drinks and will pick up $100 cash for telling researchers what they really think of the show.

For audience members who have taken up the show’s mid-week, two-tickets-for the price-of-one offer, the $100 fee will almost leave them revenue neutral (these seats were $130 for two).

The show opened in Sydney on April 12 to mixed reviews — with its “erratic’’ music score a common issue — but the show is selling through to October 5 in Sydney and is set move to Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s in January.

Last month Global Creatures CEO Carmen Pavlovic told Daily Review that Baz Luhrmann would be back in Sydney this month to re-work the show, which has struggled for ticket sales against the family favourite The Lion King during the slow winter months.

Formal focus groups are unusual in theatre. Most significant new stage work in Australia is usually re-assessed by the creative team after opening, with the forceful input of the producers and anecdotal feedback from paying audiences.

Sometimes in the US, theatre producers running shows “out of town” (ie anywhere outside Manhattan) ask their audiences to fill in response sheets, much in the way most films are routinely run by “test’’ audiences before the film gets its final release.

The Strictly Ballroom focus group is intriguing because it’s a Baz Luhrmann spectacle and the auteur’s name is synonymous with a brand of high-camp extravaganza that is entirely his own.

But given the show is brand new — and its future success on the West End and/or Broadway to a certain degree relies on its creators  ironing out its wrinkles in its out-of-town try-out in Sydney — then this audience research is not unexpected. 

Pavlovic told Daily Review that Global Creatures had spent $100 million since 2008 developing its shows Walking With Dinosaurs – the Arena Spectacular (seen by eight million people worldwide), How to Train your Dragon Live Spectacular, and the King Kong stage musical. Kong has had only one production in Melbourne so far, and it too is being re-vamped with plans to open on Broadway within the next couple of years.

If Global Creatures turns Strictly Ballroom the Musical into a West End or Broadway success then it can be sold on to other territories and reap the ongoing return, and eventually profit, because shows can take years before going into the black.

“New work is harder (than bought-in shows),” Pavlovic told Daily Review last month. “It requires a lot of commitment but it has the pay-off in owning the IP (intellectual property).”

Global Creatures knows that taking a stage “party musical” of a much-loved, high-camp Australian film from the ’90s to the rest of the world can be done. The stage version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert has run on Broadway and the West End and a dozen other countries since its Sydney premiere in 2006. The show might not have pleased the critics, but its brand of sequinned entertainment has worked with ticket buyers from Sao Paulo to Seoul, and it is still playing in six cities around the world.

Thursday night’s confab might provide Global Creatures and Baz Luhrmann with the keys to success — which at $100 an earful, might be the best cheap advice they can get.

This article was first published on The Daily Review.


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