Scandal economics: Shochiku rides out Ebizo brawl all the way to the bank
Never underestimate the public relations value of a good show-biz scandal. That bloody nose that 32-year-old kabuki superstar Ichikawa Ebizo suffered last month at the hands of a “motorcycle gang” member who didn’t like the way the drunken celebrity was treating his senpai (senior) may have embarrassed the hell out of Ebizo and forced his employer, Shochiku Entertainment, to facilitate all sorts of face-saving measures, including suspending the activities of one of their biggest cash cows, but the whole business has a silver lining.
The sold-out Hatsuharu Hanagata (New Years All-Star) kabuki performance that Ebizo was scheduled to headline at the Ginza Theatre in January had to be canceled and all the tickets refunded. Media were predicting a loss of millions of yen for Shochiku, but that apparently won’t be the case. The rien’s (kabuki world’s) most illustrious onnagata (specialist in female roles), Bando Tamasaburo, has valiantly agreed to step into the breach. At the televised press conference where he made the announcement, Tamasaburo said with proper humility that he was “the only one who happened to be free that month” for a substitute engagement at the same theater, which runs Jan. 2-20. Usually, he doesn’t perform in any of the New Years programs, but, as it turns out, he hasn’t done any kabuki since the sayonara performances at the old Kabuki-za last spring, so it may be about time for him to hit the boards again.
According to Sports Nippon, all 13,200 tickets for Tamasaburo’s entire 18-show engagement sold out in 30 minutes when they went on sale Dec. 16, which is even faster than Ebizo’s. More importantly, the top ticket price of ¥18,000 is higher than that for Ebizo’s canceled shows, which was ¥15,000. Shochiku told the media on the 17th that they “are not sure if we will lose money” on the cancellation, but it doesn’t seem likely. For one thing the company didn’t have to spend anything on advertising for the Tamasaburo shows. The press conference was covered by all the television stations (Tamasaburo rarely appears on TV), thus spreading the word beyond the usual kabuki fan base instantly. Ginza Theatre doesn’t even have to publicize the performances or the fact that another superstar, Nakamura Shido, is taking part.
One thing’s for certain: When Ebizo returns to the stage in May after his suspension the tickets will sell like hot cakes and will probably be more expensive than they’ve been for his performances in the past. In the theater world, at least, bad boys have added value.