Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bad Economy for Broadway Could Mean Opportunity for Community Theater

OK, so by now we all are well aware that the economy sucks. Those of us involved in the performing arts are also well aware that usually the first thing erased from any recession-weary consumers' plans is to buy tickets to our shows. Theater is feeling the pinch all the way from Broadway to the little black box down the street. In a recent article from Cleveland Plain Dealer Theater Reporter Tony Brown citing a random dig at Cleveland from New York Theater ad agency Exec. Nancy Coyne, he also links to a New York Times piece documenting the economic woes being felt on Broadway (Broadway Has a Devil of a Time Finding Angels [Ticket Buyers, Too]) . Attendance is down and with the enormous cost of producing lavish musicals, many productions can't afford to stay open and many are closing long before their expected end dates. Their solution? Open more straight plays that cost less to produce than big musicals. From the New York Times Article mentioned above:

"In the winter and spring season Jane Fonda is returning to Broadway for the first time in 46 years in “33 Variations,” a new play by Mois├ęs Kaufman (“The Laramie Project”); Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons will star in “Impressionism,” by Michael Jacobs; and revivals of “Blithe Spirit” and “Hedda Gabler” are scheduled."

Even though Ms. Coyne seems to believe that pissing off tourists (specifically ones from Cleveland - Coyne: "We hate tourists from Cleveland") - despite the fact that 84% percent of Broadway attendees don't live in New York - and waiting for the New York theater elite to support more "enlightened" straight plays is the answer, clear research proves otherwise. In addition to the fact that most Broadway theater-goers are from out of town, Mr. Brown also notes that over half of all the people that saw a Broadway show last year did so outside of New York. At the same time it was also pointed out this week in another Cleveland Area posting that the New York Times reports that National Endowment for the Arts research shows the audience for straight plays is declining (Audience for Straight Plays Is Declining, N.E.A. Finds).

People want big lavish musicals. Big lavish musicals are too expensive to produce. No one can afford $200 a ticket to go see big lavish musicals. Produce cheaper straight plays. No one wants to see straight plays except New York theater snobs. Piss off tourists.

What's clear is that we're scrambling and no one really has a clue what to do.

I do have one suggestion. Go to a community theater show. You can see great performances - including large-scale musicals, escape from real-world troubles for a while, be enlightened, entertained and support local talent and theater - all at a fraction of the cost of seeing a Broadway show or even a regional or semi-professional theater production. If we as community theater artists are smart we will recognize this situation as an opportunity to market ourselves as a high quality (provided we actually produce high quality product), affordable entertainment alternative.

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