Where did we think Broadway was headed? A look back.

Listen to this quote:

“Ever since the advent of talking movies in the twenties, pundits have fretted over Broadway’s demise.  The Great White Way is still around, continuing as it has for years – rarely prosperous, very occasionally brilliant, usually irrelevant, Broadway right now looks like a dinosaur.  That doesn’t mean that the theater is doomed, however.”

It could have been written yesterday, right?

Nope.  Jump in your DeLoreon and go back in time, because it  was written in 1995 . . . 16 years ago . . . when I was just 1 year out of Tisch and playing Policeman #2 in the Yeston-Kopit version of Phantom at the Carousel Dinner Theater in Akron, Ohio.

The quote was the introduction to a fascinating article in NY Magazine called “Reinventing Broadway” by Michael Goldstein.  In it Michael offers “12 tough starting points” to reviving Broadway after describing it like this:

It’s disorganized, shortsighted, and out of date.  The unions are strangling it.  Its audience is aging, its economics insane.  Forget about customer service.  Broadway is gasping for breath.

His 12 points:

  1. Admitting that Broadway has a problem that must be confronted
  2. Finding a leader
  3. Taking on The Times
  4. Just saying no to designers
  5. Busting unions
  6. Securing tax breaks for new shows
  7. Opening the Tony awards to Off Broadway
  8. Introducing the virtual box office
  9. Scalping one’s own seats
  10. Creating profit-sharing plans
  11. Serving up McTheater
  12. Bringing in new music

Interested?  Read his explanation each point here. It’s a great read, whether you agree with him or not (and I do and don’t depending on the subject).  But it’s fascinating to see how much things have changed since 1995 and how much has stayed the same.

I got a hold of Michael, actually . . . and hoped to hire him to write an updated version of the same article to see what 12 points he could offer us 16 years later . . . to make sure we’re still around 16 years from now to complain about the same issues.

But unfortunately, Michael has left the biz.

So maybe we could write our own!  Comment on this blog with one tough to-do that would help Broadway reinvent itself like Michael wanted.  Make it a tough one.  But make it realistic.

And maybe 16 years from now, we’ll check back in and see where we are.  By then, you won’t have to write blogs, you’ll just have to think them.

Got it?  Go.  One Tough To-Do.

But before you comment, read the article.  (If you click this link from a phone, scoot past the awkward article that pops up and go to page 27.)

 

(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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Comments
  • observer says:

    Except for one or two points, that list is actually still pretty valid.

  • Jake says:

    FASCINATING article. If only he knew what Rent and the Internet would eventually do!!
    1. Still appropriate, but not nearly to the level it was in 95.
    2. Have we done this? Disney? We got out of the 90s slump somehow.
    3. It feels almost unkind to take on the Times at this point (look at the recent Brighton Beach Memoirs revival). I think the Times no longer has the power it did.
    4. I don’t particularly agree with this one. Design is still a big reason that people see Broadway shows. Lion King was one of the bigger turning points from the dregs of ’95 and that show IS design. There’s almost nothing else there. And look at Spiderman!
    5. A constant struggle.

    9. We do this! Premium Seating! And think of the number of people that complain about it now!

    12. Another that has been wholly embraced, and with only middling success.
    I would love his take now.

  • RLewis says:

    “…one tough to-do that would help Broadway…”
    Better cultivate the new senior baby boomers (and leave the kids alone – they’ll be old soon enough!). For the next 2 decades, there will be more seniors than ever… they have the spare time… they have the spare money… and they can’t do the active things they used to do. Counter-intuitive enough?

  • Local 1 Stagehand says:

    30 years as a Broadway stagehand. No relatives in the business. I’ve developed some opinions.
    Michael Goldstein offered 12 “tough starting points”. He was so committed, he left the business. Some start.
    Points:
    1. Pretty self evident. Most of the talent goes elsewhere for the greater financial reward and resources. We survive on leavings and people coming back after success for our cache.
    2. You found leaders for the last contract negotiations. They had MBA’s but knew nothing about the business the were attempting to manage. Short term bottom lining, without the ability to see the future will kill the business. You need leaders from within (with vision rather than college “skills”), not union busters from without.
    3. No comment
    4. I’ve seen strong producers rein in and control their designers. It works. Style is based on limitation.
    5. It costs about 3 seats a show to pay for a stagehand. It has for the last 30 years. When I’ve made the big bucks, it has come on long ridiculous hours, during production. See points 2 & 4.
    6. No comment
    7. Go ahead. Remember the Tonys are a nationally televised infomercial for our business.
    8. Sell tickets anyway you can.
    9. You’ve done it. Cameron M. was doing it already in ’92.
    10. I’m interested.
    11. Don’t alienate your current audience angling for a future one. But do attempt audience development.
    12. See point 11.

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    It’s hard for me to get too interested in articles like this, because all Broadway’s problems stem from the same issue, and always have: money. Costs in NYC are insane. The unions are not to blame, nor the critics, nor the Times, nor the general public, nor changing tastes. The cost of doing business, and the cost of living, in New York City are. I don’t know what the answer is. One can imagine a kind of theatre theme-park, where people go just for that. But the average person wants to see a few shows over a year’s time, not ten at once. And vacationers want a wide variety of things to do: nightlife, museums, sports, etc. A metropolis can provide all that, but at the same time, it is inherently expensive. I doubt there is anything that can be done about it. If you look at the history of the arts, major arts centers have arisen spontaneously, then dissipated due to economic and social circumstances. Then a new one appears somewhere else, and there is no predicting where or when.

  • Andrew Storm says:

    #1. We’ve admitted the problem, now don’t be part of it! In fact REFUSE to be a part of it! If you love Broadway and the Theatre as most of us do(or we would not be crazy enough to be in the biz) then don’t help drag it down by being the same-old-same-old like all the ones who created the problem. REINVENT!!
    #2. Don’t find a leader, BE A LEADER!! Don’t wait for a Savior, jump in the water and save it!
    #3. Make your own news. Don’t worry about the news powers that be. They ain’t all that any longer anyway. Use all the avenues that exist to make your own news and spread that news. And when you run out of avenues, build new ones.
    #4. Find and work with Artisans that are workable. Build a team and be loyal to that team and they will be loyal to you! Covet creative people who are willing to be flexible in order to create GREAT Theatre!
    #5. Help bring the Unions into the real world. Don’t fear the Unions; don’t assume you must kill the Unions; realize that they and we must come to terms with REAL life facts! If we do not control the costs, the costs will eat us alive. Better to work together to create GREAT Theatre at a cost that is sustainable then to be out of work and walk past shuttered Theatres on you way to the unemployment lines!
    #6. LEARN ECONOMICS! Don’t be STUPID creative! Realize that depending on other folks to keep your economic ship afloat is a plan for disaster!
    #7. Establish Tony Categories for Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway. Also add NEW Tony Categories such as Best Song from a Musical (much like the Oscars). The more attention we bring to Off and Off Off Broadway Theatre, the more chance we have of moving shows up to Broadway! Pay more attention also to Regional Theatre work!
    #8. Use the Technology we have!! We have all this burgeoning Technology these days and more and more constantly. Use it in every way possible. Stop being such purist snobs with our work! If we do not find ways to reach the great unwashed potential Theatre goers, we will be having Theatre sewing circles anyway. we will meet in small whining groups to show off our shows to the few folks who still care, each other!
    #9. Creative Marketing and Pricing 101!! We must create new techniques for marketing and new levels of pricing. Realize that filling half the seats at $150 per is not as good as filling ALL the seats at $100. Not sure you understand this one Refer to #6!
    #10. DON’T BE GREEDY!! Make partnerships with the people with whom you create shows. Don’t keep the whole damn cake and toss them crumbs!
    #11. Cut the FAT!! We must not go the way of our infamous State and Federal Governments! Learn that everything does not have to cost ten times as much as you would pay for something in your personal life! If your home toilet seat comes from Walmart for $15.00, why does your Theatre toilet seat have to cost $1,500.00?? Each and every manager and producer and whoever does not need their own little slice of heaven office, their personal assistant/whipping boy or girl, their own private limo to get around town in. All those yellow things (and lots that aren’t yellow) are Taxis, EMBRACE them! AND, if YOU really want your show to get off the ground (not to mention soar), don’t feel you have to load your fees on the front end just in case there is no back end. If you do not understand this one, refer to #1 and #6!
    #12. Do NOT copy, retread, regroup, redo, etc. other shows that have been done so many times they have tread marks all over them and everybody in the house knows every word before it even exits the mouths of the actors. CREATE NEW THEATER!! Or, at the very least, if you do redo something make it new and fresh and vital. And, part B, Think WAYYYYYY out of the box Musically. We all love traditional Broadway music, we grew up on it, but we will love new Broadway music just as much. HELL we just LOVE Broadway!
    #13. No I am NOT superstitious, and I believe in the baker’s Dozen approach to Theatre! Always give them a little extra! Finally, make Broadway (and Theatre in general) work for the new generations of potential Theatre goers. Unless we can find a way to make the traditional audience members live forever we better get this one right!
    AND…..GOD BLESS ALL THOSE INSANE ENOUGH TO WORK IN THE THEATRE! AMEN!!!

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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