Where oh where are the commercial Off Broadway shows?

They got the headline wrong.

At the tail end of last year, Playbill posted an article entitled “Spring 2015 Off Broadway Preview,” which you can read here.

If I was the editor of Playbill.com, I would have renamed the article, “Spring 2015 Non Profit Off Broadway Preview,” because of the 50 plus Off Broadway shows plugged for the coming months, I found only one, maybe two, that were commercially backed.

Yeah, you read that right.

Now there will be a couple more for sure (I, for one, know of one very high profile commercial Off Broadway project that’s going to announce later this week and get a lot of attention . . . but I can’t talk about that just yet), but to have only such a small percentage of Off Broadway shows backed by commercial theater producers is a dang shame.

So what happened to commercial Off Broadway?

Several things actually.  Here are just a few:

  • Production Costs have risen so much that when compared to producing the show on Broadway, many producers just say, “Well, I’ll just raise a few more bucks and go bigger.”  This is another reason why there is such a theater crunch on Broadway, because some shows are in line that shouldn’t be.
  • Broadway has done such a great job in marketing itself over the last several years, that audiences are more inclined to see a Broadway show first than an Off Broadway show.  The divide between the two types of theater is greater than ever.
  • Broadway theaters are full.  With more shows on Broadway, there are more choices for the theatrical tourist, and since Off Broadway shows by design have limited advertising budgets, they struggle to get eyeballs.  Tourists land at the airport and are inundated with Broadway shows on billboards and Taxi TV and so many forms of media that Off Broadway shows can’t afford, so they’re starting from the back of the pack before the race has even begun.

So what should we do?  Give up?  Should Off Broadway become solely the land of Non Profits?

No sir-ee Bob, or whatever your name is.

Commercial Off Broadway can and should still exist, and I’m actually predicting a renaissance in the next decade (The Shuberts buying New World Stages and helping to convince some of those shows (and stars) in the Broadway queue to try Off Broadway instead may be just what the doctor ordered).

So what should you do if you’re producing an Off Broadway show?

I’ll give you five tips tomorrow.


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  • Carvanpool says:

    And no unions to complain about off-Broadway. Boo Hoo.

  • Eric Goldman says:

    One of the biggest obstacles to more commercially backed Off-Broadway is the Equity bonding requirement. There are a lot of indie shows that are worthy of making the leap to a commercial Off-Broadway run, but with the lack of suitable theaters and the union requirements it’s beyond the grasp of many potential producers.

  • Ken: I really hope there will be more commercially backed Off Broadway shows, because my show, URBAN MOMFARE, is one that is looking for a lead commercial producer! I was hoping it might be you(!), since you put us on the “10 Shows to Watch Out For at the Fringe” list this summer, but I don’t think you ever saw the show, did you? I also emailed you because my maiden name is “Weiler” and when you got married, I told you I thought it was a funny coincidence that your wife’s maiden name is the same. 🙂

    Anyway, we are currently trying to figure out what to do with our show. Any chance I, my collaborator, and one of our producers (but not sure if she will be our lead) could meet with you? We would love that! Our show got great press and won a Best Musical Award at the Fringe, but we are still not sure where to go from here. Stay in NY? Try to get a regional theatre to produce us? All different routes. We are currently doing some revisions and making recordings of our songs. We already have potential investors asking us when we are doing the show again and what is going on, but we don’t have an entity created for them to invest in, because we are waiting for that elusive producer!

    Thanks for any help! I love reading your column!

    – Pam

  • Robert HP says:

    From a consumer’s perspective, eyes is a big part of it. Way back in 1990 when we were in town, we stopped at TKTS to see what was affordable. We were very broke, and there was an odd little option called Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, paired with another play whose name I forget. The tickets were super cheap so we went. It was all the way downtown (I suspect it was at Cherry Lane Theater), we had a great time.

    I know you have mixed emotions about TKTS and other discounts, but where have all the Off- and Off-Off- options gone there? Combine that with the fact that Time Out NY and the other arts/entertainment media don’t run the full Off- and Off-Off theater listings anymore in their print issues, and it becomes almost impossible for the average tourist to discover theater outside of Broadway.

  • Kyrsten Louchen says:

    I personally love off broadway because most theaters offer student tix therefore I can afford to see more of them then broadway shows. But I have noticed this when I got to off broadway shows. I am usually the youngest person in the audience, at 24! That doesn’t bother me because it usually mean the “older” patrons around me like to chat to me and I have met some very interesting people. However, those people are shocked that I am from out of town. On many occasions I they people who are amazed to learn I traveled 3 hours into the city just to see that show.
    I’m not sure the solution for a commercial off broadway but I hope off broadway continues putting out the productions that they are, its such amazing work and the world is benefitting from it.

  • FERN KERSHON says:

    Sounds like my timing is perfect. I have a commercial off-Broadway show coming up — FALLING IN LOVE WITH MR. DELLAMORT.

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