Monday, 28 June 2010

George Town Festival 2010: Exorbitant prices for Emily of Emerald Hill

I am proud to call myself an Anak Pulau Pinang, born and raised in the city of George Town. Although circumstances later forced me to relocate to the mainland, my bond with the island and the city are intact and permanent. And no one can accuse this particular Anak Pulau Pinang of not being an ardent supporter of the first George Town Festival 2010, the month-long festival in celebration of the city of George Town's status as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. I am, and various people knows it.

And naturally, I am very excited with the wide variety of programmes that the Festival's committee had drawn up to involve not only the people of Penang but from elsewhere too. Not to say that many of the programmes are anything new, of course, because most of them are basically the same general stuff that are strutted out year in and year out during other festivals. But there are some exclusive new programmes too, like the Emily of Emerald Hill show with its Peranakan background which should appeal to the general public that still keep in touch with their cultural heritage.

Yet somehow, I feel it is all wrong that the organisers of Emily of Emerald Hill are taking lots of liberty to fix the prices of the tickets for sale to the general public at RM150 per ticket, even at RM250 per ticket for the "better" seats, when I sense that there is a substantial number of complimentary tickets being given away free of charge.

To me, the unmistakable feeling is that the genuinely-interested public is being short-changed. They are being made to pay high prices while a lot of the free tickets are being offered out to people with the right connections, regardless of their interest in the show or the occasion.

Don't forget what we are celebrating. The state government and the organisers of this George Town Festival 2010 should be encouraging more of the Anak Pulau Pinang to come celebrate the city's listing as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. I know there are already lots of free programmes for the general public to join in and the three Emily of Emerald Hill shows are considered more exclusive. But it doesn't make it proper for the organisers to keep ticket prices so high for the general public, because are they being made to subsidise the free tickets? Or are the cost of the shows already paid for with sponsorship money? These are the questions that should be answered openly in the interest of competency, accountability and transparency. If the costs of the shows are indeed being borne by sponsors, why do the organisers need to keep prices high? More affordable ticket prices at RM80 and RM120 will ensure continuing interest by the public in many other things that are Penang, if not exclusively Peranakan

The danger of reserving so many tickets to be given out free is that how many of the ticket recipients are truly appreciative of their opportunity? Will all actually be present for the shows? Worse still, at such exorbitant prices - even if the shows come with a nyonya-style dinner - how many tickets do the organisers expect to sell to the public? They are pricing themselves out of the reach of many people. And the publicity....the shows are only days away and I do not see much publicity being generated except for something in The Sunday Star yesterday.

At such prices, I hope the organisers are confident that they can sell all the tickets and get a full house for the three performances. Best of luck to them. Or otherwise, they may be forced to give away even the unsold tickets to ensure that people do turn up for the shows. Now, not only would that be a big shame, it would also be a gross injustice to the general public who had paid so much for the tickets in the first place! So again, competency, accountability and transparency must be addressed here.

And finally, this paragraph is written as an after-thought. When I alerted a friend in the state government about this odd practice, I was a bit incensed when told that if I felt that the show won't be worth the money, then I shouldn't go. This is completely unacceptable. What is public feedback if it is not appreciated? The solution is not for the public to boycott any of the programmes for the George Town Festival 2010 but for the state government, as the main stakeholder, to ensure that everything is properly organised and completely above board. There must always be transparency where public participation is required and money is involved for the public good. It's important not to fall back on the old ways where fund raisers for projects are allowed to thumb their noses at people and tell them "So what? I'm the one that raised the money. You don't have a say in how I spend it."

No comments: