Maybe it all began with the Monty Woolley scandal of 1949. That was when the HDC's highly successful Boston production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, with Woolley in the title role, came to a disastrous end by the Club's business manager making off with the ten thousand dollar ticket receipts. That enterprising young man has never been seen since, and neither have the comfortably low admission prices for Harvard drama of that day.
It is open to conjecture whether the HDC has increased its ticket costs in following years to pull itself out of that morass of red. But this increase is not limited to the HDC, since smaller groups in the University have followed the rise up, indeed often surpassing the HDC in excessive admission charges.
Perhaps the costliness of attending theater at Harvard is only one of the unpleasanter aspects of the rapidly creeping professionalism of the drama business in Cambridge. But whatever the cause, tickets for plays at Harvard cost too much.
Whereas in 1948 a polished production of Troilus and Cressyda could be seen for $.90, two years ago the cheapest seat in the house for that remarkable production of Macbeth was $1.20. And while in 1952 one could have seen a professional production of Billy Budd, by the Brattle Players, for $.80 and a full length production of Shaw's Candida for $.60, one now is forced to pay $1.50 to scramble for a chair in the Adams House lower common room to see students playing Uncle Vanya. Just five years ago the Harvard Theater Group presented Coriolanus with admission only $.60; in 1955 the HDC came out with a show entitled Great To Be Back!, and made the rock bottom price $1.50.
The HDC insist they don't make a profit, in the long run. The considerable amount of money brought in from a play such as Death of A Salesman goes to fill the deficit for some such turkey as Macbeth. And it is useless to exhort the Club not to produce bad plays. The big income for a production like Hamlet is met by equally big expenses for extravagant costumes and costly set construction. If the HDC could reduce spending on these two items, perhaps ticket prices might be lowered to a more reasonable level; certainly cost of a production is not proportionate to its quality. The HDC does have free admission, however--to its dramatic workshop productions. The workshop plays are pleasant sometimes, but the offer reminds one of the free haircuts given by barber colleges.
The House groups often admit to a profit, but don't consider this a product of overcharging. They merely "plow back" the money into technical equipment or save it for the next production. Here perhaps the Ford grants for the Houses could be used to advantage. It would not be in the nature of a wasteful subsidy for the Ford funds to cover some of the primary expenditures of House theatricals, thus abating the need both for charging professional prices for amateur production and for selecting a play merely on grounds of potential financial success.