Q: What do Off-Broadway and Independent Film have in common?

A: Almost everything.

Here are some common (but admittedly general) characteristics that could be used to describe both Off-Broadway and Independent Film:

  • Lower budgets
  • Original works
  • Emerging artists
  • Risk-taking
  • Artistic
  • Celebrities
  • Etc.

So if they are so similar, then why oh why does Independent Film have such a better rep than Off-Broadway (besides the obvious “off”-in-the-title issue)?  I guarantee if we had done a one-word survey on Independent Film, it would have a lot more positive associations than the Off-Broadway associations we talked about yesterday.

Two things changed the face of Independent Film in the last two decades:

  1. The democratization of production thanks to new technology (digital cameras and digital editing allowed anyone to make a movie inexpensively).
  2. Indie Films compete side by side against their mainstream counterparts for awards – and often beat them.

How can we use these examples to better Off-Broadway?

  1. If I were an Off-Broadway Producer or member of the Off-Broadway Alliance (oh, wait, I am), I’d be looking at how we can use technology and our new DIY world to reduce our costs, while maintaining high-quality productions.  Off-Broadway shows can’t be produced like mini-Broadway shows.  They have entirely different economic models and therefore have to be built differently . . . and today they can be.
  2. I’d also be lobbying the Tony Awards for some sort of Off-Broadway recognition.  While we’ll never go head-to-head (nor should we, Drama Desks), partially because unlike film, we “graduate” many shows to Broadway and therefore Tony eligibility, Off-Broadway deserves a piece of that big night.  Why not a citation for a production or an artist or a theater company?  There’s a Tony for regional theaters, why not one for Off-Broadway, which I’d bet has been responsible for more eventual Tony Award winners than regionals.

Somehow, somewhere, Off-Broadway got a bad rep (and yes, it has to do with the name).  What should we do?

Over the next ten years, Off-Broadway’s goal should be to change its brand to exactly that of Independent Film.

Otherwise, as films get even easier to produce and distribute and therefore appear in theaters, on computers and on iPhones with even greater frequency, people may just decide to go see a movie instead of a show.

  • NickColeman says:

    I think you’re on the right track with the name issue.
    Off-Broadway implies “not-Broadway”.
    Independent Film sounds strong–and *choosing* to be different.
    Broadway was named after the street/district where most of those kinds of productions took place, so while it isn’t arbitrary, it doesn’t really describe the experience. Off-Broadway doesn’t either–except to describe “not-Broadway”.
    The sheer number of websites, companies, products, etc associated with “Off-Broadway” makes changing the name unrealistic… so changing the image is essential.
    And that starts with youth!
    Off-Broadway needs to be PROUD that it isn’t Broadway–and celebrate that THANK GOD it ISN’T.
    It will then appeal to the audience of people who don’t like or want to see Broadway shows (thereby making it “cool”) and will then begin to attract the Broadway crowd (who generally speaking are people who are crowd followers, not leaders).
    SO… how does Off-Broadway do this? It can start by celebrating the very limitations that create the difference, rather than bemoaning them. 🙂

  • Werner says:

    I think Off-Broadway should focus on audience experience. Seeing a Broadway musical has always been an event; the elegance of the theater, people dressed up, young, old, etc.
    Off-Broadway should distance itself from Broadway by offering a different audience experience. Maybe Off-Broadway should be more personal? Just a thought.

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