Is it just me? Or does it feel like more shows are closing this summer?

I’m no Ghost-like psychic, nor do I-See-Dead-People . . . but every once in awhile I do get a feeling that something isn’t right.  And when I read the latest closing notice up on the ol’ Playbill.com, I thought . . . there seems to be more shows than usual walking-towards-the-light-Carol-Ann.

But spooky feelings aren’t enough for a blog, otherwise I’d have to write one every time I hear the word ‘Scientology.’

So, I went data diving to see if I could find some numbers to back up this uneasy feeling I’ve got inside.

I looked at the number of shows running at Tony time for the last thirty years.  Then I looked at the number of shows closing during the period from the Tony Awards through Labor Day.  Then I looked to see how this year compared to the past.

And, well, maybe I should open up a storefront and start charging people to talk to their long-lost-Grandpa-Joe, because I was unfortunately right.

  • Over the past thirty years, there have been an average of 27.23 shows running at Tony Time.
  • On average, 10.61 of them have closed before Labor Day.
  • Weighting the averages appropriately gets us an average close rate of 38.96% of all the shows running.

This year?

  • There were 34 shows running on the day they handed out the trophies.
  • A whopping 17 are closing over the summer, for a close rate of 50%.
  • That’s a rate that has happened only twice before, and not since 1996.

(Insert creeptastic music here.)

As I was looking over the numbers, I did notice a dramatic increase in the number of shows running in June that hasn’t happened since the late 90s.  Get this:

  • Over the past fifteen years, there have been an average 32.27 shows running at Tony Time.
  • For the fifteen years prior to that, there were only 22.5 shows running at Tony Time.
  • Over the past fifteen years, an average of 12.73  closed over the summer.
  • Over the prior fifteen years, an average of 8.625 shows closed over the summer.
  • That’s a weighted average of 39.46% for the past fifteen years, and 38.33% for the prior fifteen.
So, over the fifteen year period, we’re seeing a little uptick.
But what if we just looked at the prior five years?
  • The average close rate over the prior five years has been 40.96%.
  • Not coincidentally, there have been almost two more shows running over the last five years than the previous ten, and almost 11 more than the previous fifteen years.

And this year, of course, we saw 50% of the shows close.

So what’s the takeaway?  Why?

I think you got it.  Say it with me . . .

We just might be producing more shows than our market can bear.

Sure, the vendors are happy.  They’re working on a ton of more shows, and aren’t tied into profitability.

But the investors aren’t.

With attendance flatter than the earth before Columbus took it for a spin, it’s counter-intuitive to profit-making to create more product.  Imagine, for a second, if during the financial crisis that devastated the auto industry, Detroit just started making a few more cars.

While everyone thinks their show can beat the odds and be the best, it’s important to be objective about your show.  There’s only so much business to go around.  And if you try to compete in a flooded market, you may just get run aground.

And that’s scarier than any little blonde girl staring at a bunch of static.

 

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Comments
  • Meg says:

    “With attendance flatter than the earth before Columbus took it for a spin”

    oh this post was delightful and terrifying.

  • Jamie says:

    Interesting take about the market being over-saturated, but aren’t half of this summer’s closings limited runs anyway? I’m not sure the 17 closings are a harbinger of gloom and doom when their closings were announced alongside their openings. My two cents…

  • Tracey Rentcome says:

    I wonder if the Tony awards affect shows that are REALLY good, but don’t win- directing more traffic to the winners and leaving less for the great shows ? We saw Godspell before Tony’s and couldn’t believe you guys weren’t even nominated, and we just came back and saw Ghost and feel the same way- what an absolutely fabulous show! So glad we saw both before they closed XX

  • David says:

    If there is already an oversupply of seats, why have MORE theaters been built? Perhaps the answer is that theatres can be profitable even as the shows in them lose money, and the financial interests of various players need to be brought into better alignment.

  • Not good news. Even worse when take out the shows that have been running ten years or longer, which is a relatively new phenomenon.

  • Mike Lewis says:

    1. May tracking of consumer confidence in the economy in comparison to the above stats reveal more? Use of the projected forecast for consumer confidence as one of the tools for making decisions to launch or hold off?
    2. I also think that unfair reviews influenced a couple of the closings, and there is a segment of the market that would have given the reviews less weight in a better economy. (I heard that one show had really good attendance until a certain review came out, and that review did irreparable damage.)

  • Michael L. says:

    In support of your theory that more shows are being produced than the market can bear, I see that there are 17 shows that will still be open at the end of this summer, which equals the average over the past 30 years (Per your statistics, there’s an average of 27.23 shows at Tony time, less 10.61 closing by Labor Day = an average of 16.62 shows open on Labor Day).

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    There’s a much simpler and more likely explanation: too many shows that are being produced are crap.

  • Scott Kirschenbaum says:

    Could also be that producers are cramming shows to open between March-June (for Tony consideration)–so cannot develop an audience (tho most arent worthy anyway), and the reserves run out.

    And why stay open for the fall doldrums?

    SISTER ACT is doing that very precarious balance–and is hopefully doing better than expected (and earning some $$ back for its investors)

  • In agreement, it’s been said before, too much product out there. But so much talent in NYC, both on and off stage kudos to them all. It seems rare that a performer receives a bad review, it’s the show itself that gets negative comments. Many of these shows were simply not Broadway stage worthy, but pumped with spectacle and razzle dazzle to mask a weak score or story. Amazes me these shows are produced at all. Broadway as circus instead of sharp, smart, thoughtful entertainment.Yet even the well reviewed shows are not selling out, so you cannot isolate a closing to a bad review.
    There are only so many entertainment dollars that one can spend after paying the bills! I remember when tkts/tkts offered orchestra seats for $20…now it’s $70 for that seat. Big chunk of change when your Con Ed Bill doubled, and you have to have a cell phone, cable tv bill in order to lead a life these days!

  • John Fiorillo says:

    Ken – Very interesting analysis. But here are another couple of interpretations. Are we producing too much product OR too much exactly similar product? We’re producing lots of chevys and fords. But we could be producing some BMWs and Maseratis. Not the best analogy, but you get my point.

    Interpretation #2. We’re producing too much product for the existing mass audience, but not mining the newer niche markets. The attempt to market to the Christian market this year was not a success, but it was an interesting attempt. There are other market niches – one of which I’ve identified through market research I’ve financed (sorry, I’ll keep it to myself) that includes proven theater goers with a specific interest. We’re not looking in the right places.

  • Sue says:

    Here’s a thought outside the box. Mount multiple productions of e.g. Book of Mormon and Spiderman. Why not have them running in 2 or 3 Broadway theaters, allowing for slightly more reasonable prices, more people employed, more satisfied audiences, thrilled groupies, happier investors and theater owners — Why not?? It’s called “economies of scale”.

  • …But how many of the shows that have closed this Summer were already scheduled to close, were limited runs? Surely that would skew the numbers.

  • Martins Jukna says:

    Perhaps this highlights not the Overproduction of Theatre, but the Underdevelopment of Theatre audience – something Ms. Tory Bailey of TDF has been warning about for YEARS! The singular-producer model of Broadway has made it an industry segment that isn’t capable of working together against other entertainment industry segments (movies, TV, etc.), rather cat-fighting amongst themselves. Theatre is a tiny portion of the American Entertainment industry and needs to really work as a team to be able to survive in the long term…

  • RobertHP says:

    >>>“With attendance flatter than the earth before Columbus took it for a spin”<<<

    Hate to say it, but ticket price has become a *huge* deterrent for us. When the discount tickets run upwards of $150 or $200 per, and even the most mundane play is charging $300 (thank you again, "Producers"), there is simply no way to make Broadway a habit.
    Caught an old episode of That Girl where Donald bought two premium tickets to the latest Broadway show. Total cost, $24. $12 a person.

    Even in 1970 money that doesn't add up: Gas has risen in that time by 110%, cars 60 to 80. Theater, on the other hand, which cost the same as a movie in 1910, has increased about 250%!!! I realize we get to see Spider-Man fly and A-list Hollywood actors do LeBute's latest. But it's not like there weren't spectacles or top stars on Broadway in the 1960s and 70s. I have playbills with established stars like Hepburn, Fonda and Redford on the covers, both before and after they became huge stars.

    10 years ago, we'd go to a Broadway play several times a year (and off-off B'Ways almost weekly), on a third of our current income. Now I'd like to expose my 9-year-old son to Broadway, and we can't afford it. $1,000 for three tickets to see puppet horses or catch the night (a week after the Tonys) that Audra McDonald bails on her star turn? Not gonna happen.

  • Rich says:

    Two thoughts:
    1. Limited run closings (others have noted this).
    2. Who cares about more closings? Shows’ recouping (or not)should be the only relevant issue. Don’t forget, shows that recoup must eventually close, too, when they no longer meet their operating costs!

  • PDXComposer says:

    A lot of great comments here. The trend is to pack openings near Tony time in hopes of riding the sales wave winning awards might offer. You could predict who would close post Tony awards from their 50-60% weekly sales gross.

    As stated earlier, the number of short runs are high, fueled by producers banking on sure bet past runs like Porgy and Bess or Into the Woods..

    A new class of pseudo-producers (like NYMT, NAMT, etc.) are creating an artificial market for new work submissions, even where ticket sales and theater space availability do not warrant an increase in actual new productions. (Yes, I know NAMT’s core goal is to bring new works to their producer membership. Tell that to the starry-eyed writers hoping for a Broadway hit.)

    A new class of producer and producing options – like Kickstart are making it appear that it’s easier than ever to get new work produced – spurring more first-time writers to write.

    A plethora of new writing programs (college and private-based), particularly in musical theater, have sprouted and who promote more product development – in turn, looking for production opportunities. (Those who can – do write. Those who cannot or can’t get production, open new writing programs.)

    And then, from our neck of the woods, we’re also seeing an increase of trust babies (or retired and bored business people) leaving their sleepy hamlets to brush shoulders with the Great White Way royalty by becoming investors in the latest project written by unproven or unseasoned authors. Their ignorance regarding the viability of the project or of the ability of the authors (particularly to fix problems)is ignored in favor of their satisfying their need to stand near the spotlight.

    There seems to be nothing extraordinary about the business of Broadway this year, except as it’s tied to the economy. More writers than ever seem encouraged by the increase of training schools, contests and workshops – to churn out product. The increase in product and driven writers creates a new class of investors (aunts and uncles) and creative investment opportunities. More product, not market demand, fuels the openings. The lack of writer training and their inexperience fuels the closures.

    What someone really should be doing is starting more “producer” training programs – the ability to find backers, run a for-profit business and develop a nose for viable products from experienced writers is the REAL trick.

  • A Contrarian says:

    A dozen-or-so years ago, Rocco (of Jujamcyn) thought the industry was overbuilt — and that was before the 42nd Street rebuild with several additional houses. There’s been a lot of talk about the need for 500/600 seat houses, but of course Broadway had them and they were all torn down except for the Little Theatre.

    As to the notion of the same show playing in more than one theatre, Disney publicly considered this when “Lion King” opened. I think a better option would be for some in-demand shows — non-Star-dependant — to play say, 10 performances a week with alternating cast. Can the numbers work? Or are we stuck with the 8/week model?

  • A Contrarian says:

    And what about “special summer pricing” with some offerings at fluctuating amounts?

  • Lynn A. says:

    i think after reading all of these – that paul really said it
    “There’s a much simpler and more likely explanation: too many shows that are being produced are crap.”

    why can’t we just accept that some of the shows are simply not good…
    hmm.

  • Jim Joseph says:

    Interesting data! There are a few things to consider when alalyzing this data though. First, there are more Broadway theaters now than 15 years ago. Automatically that means more product being created. Second is the increase in not for profits producing on Broadway. MTC and Roundabout are producing limited engagements in theaters that did not exist 15 years ago which will skew some of these numbers. The rebirth of Times Square plays a big role in comparring the last 15 years to the 15 before that and you also have to factor in economic impact of 9/11 when looking at the past 5 years against the 10 before that. Additiojnally, as we all know the approacj to producing non-musicals is radically different — 16 weeks, big stars and huge prices for premium tickets is the (unfortunate) new model. If you look over the last 5 years, I would bet that there are more shows opening in the Fall than ever before with most (if not all) of them beig limited runs and those theaters being turned around in February for teh next wave of shows.

  • Steve Bowsman says:

    Mr Davenport, My financee’and i wanted to come to New York to see Godspell and a few other shows. With airfare, transportation, lodging, food etc. we were looking at a minimum of $5000 for less than a week. In this economy we could not justify it. I realize that unions don’t come cheap and you are in the buisness to make money ( i know they are labors of love also) but something has to be done. Shows are closing too soon. I am not smart enough to know the answer, however i do know i want live Broadway to continue. Thank you for your blogs and reading our comments.
    Steve
    Indianapolis, IN

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