We’re gettin’ our butts kicked so badly, it’s embarrassing.

A headline on my daily lunch time read, Playbill.com, captured my attention recently.  It screamed . . .

“Schedule of Upcoming Live Theatre Broadcasts in Movie Theatres and on Television”.

I squealed like a 7 year old who just got the new Elsa doll when I read it.  Of course, I wondered what shows I could catch at my local cineplex, but more importantly I started thinking about the shows I could recommend to my Mom and Dad who live out in suburban land, hours away from New York City.  This was a chance for them to get a taste of Broadway in their snowy Massachusetts town (and I knew that if they saw a show out there now, they’d be more excited to come in to the city this summer).

I scrolled down the list.  And that’s when I noticed it.

King Lear . . . Canadian production.”

Love’s Labour’s Lost . . . British.”

A View from the Bridge . . . British.”

See where I’m going with this?  Wait there’s more . . .

Billy Elliot . . . that was here, right?  Nope.  This is the British production.”

Driving Miss Daisy . . . wait, surely that’s our production.  Sort of.  This was shot in Australia.”

In total, there were 15 productions of plays and musicals that were scheduled to appear on big or small screens in the next several months.  Several of them featured big stars including Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones and more . . .

And of those 15, only one, one I tell you, was a US production.  And that was a non-profit production (Act One at Lincoln Center).

Yeah, this is embarrassing.  And the Broadway ego takes a shellacking every time a list like this gets published.  How are we supposed to uphold our reputation as being the biggest and best producer of live theater if other countries are beating us to the market?  The UK and Canada are exporting and distributing better than we are!

But this is no longer just an ego issue.  It’s an economic one.

What’s happening now is no different than what the auto industry faced years ago.  Detroit got too expensive, and other countries started producing cars cheaper, and sending them all over the world . . . including to our own driveways.  And then, the next thing you know, the auto industry needs a bailout.

There’s obviously a market for stage productions all over the world.  You think there would be 15 filmed stage productions scheduled to debut in cities around the world if there weren’t?  There are customers waiting to pay for this experience.  And we’re not providing so other countries are.

And you know what means?

We’re losing jobs.

There are 14 productions on this list that were shot outside the US.  What would have been the economic impact on this city if they were shot here?  Performers are losing out on salaries.  Unions are losing out on benefits.  The city is losing out on taxes.

We’re getting our asses kicked.

It’s not too late.  Luckily we have the best content in the world, so if we wake up, and make telecasts the #1 priority for our industry in the next five years, we’ll be fine.

But if we don’t, well, we might need a bailout of our own.  Or, there just might be a heck of a lot more British imports on Broadway.


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  • Melissa Bell says:

    Who is working with Equity regarding this? Is this because of the “No Filming” rules?

    • Walt Frasier says:

      I am of the same thinking. And not just equity – negotiating a deal with all the unions would get very sticky…

      Which plays to a much larger point. Current deals with non-filming are eventually going to have to change or Broadway will never be able to compete with new technologies.

      It is already hard to consider Broadway a commercial entertainment commodity. Shutting out these potential major monetization sources. We will be left with a small handful of hits only tourists want to see and subsidized non-profits no one wants to see.

      But if we could squeeze out a few more dollars here and there from a live stream, movie theater screening, and other distribution, perhaps some hidden gems could take that much longer to find their audience or simply survive on 5% less ticket sales during those rough weeks to make it to the next busy season.

      But NYC theaetr politics is a nightmare and I doubt the big family houses will see reason anytime soon.

  • Steven Conners says:

    This is certainly not new. A great man who I met, producer Ely Landau, and became partners with one of his sons Neil Landau, and his son Jon Landau who was Exec. producer of Titanic and Avatar, and his son Les Landau is the curator of this film series: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Film_Theatre
    all of them knew that their dad was on the cutting edge and this would be the way of the future. The Brits are just reviving something that has been done by US. You ought to do it. You’d be good. —sjc

  • Kay says:

    Don’t knock the HD’s. with this winter, who can contemplate driving in from the burbs ? Like your dad, I watched billy Elliot with great joy…again !
    I saw Helen mirren in HD and will again…live !

    Sooner or later broadway is going to make long running or closed shows available. Why on earth not ? There was a time when “local” or school productions were not allowed when a show was still running. That time has passed.
    Let the exclusivity go, or we will pass like the dinosaur.

  • Casey says:

    I live in Kansas City and have attended several telecasts and they were great. My first choice is live on Broadway but since I don’t get into New York often this is the only way I can experience the shows. Hopefully the Broadway shows will follow the lead. It isn’t taking any business away just adding.

  • Barb Dignan says:

    I couldn’t agree more! I’ve been a huge fan of British theatre and film (and, now television thanks to the BBCA) for a number of years. Joined the SIE Film Society here in Denver just so i can see all those fabulous plays that are filmed and sent around the world. And I’m planning a vacation to London next fall. Ten days of sight-seeing; ten nights of live theatre all over London (specifically, Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet.) The US is falling further and further behind in this relatively new way to see “live” theatre. On a positive note: I did see Broadway’s Of Mice and Men on the big screen this past December and enjoyed it thoroughly! In 2014 I took college theatre/film majors with me to see Frankenstein and Skylight. Going to see King Lear soon and Man and Superman in a month. All three are British productions.

  • Trevor Chenery says:

    Ken, Broadway totally has its head in the sand about live shows, digitally delivered world-wide especially to the UK.
    US Producers should be talking to NT Live & Digital Theatre in London about showing – for starters – Sunday matinees live to the UK of top plays that are unlikely to make the trip over; or for those that will use the broadcast as a taster & a tempter.

    The other key area that should be looked at is very high-quality 4D + Super Dolby surround sound sat-casts to selected London studios where UK critics can see and review Broadway shows without the expense time & hassle of inter-continental flights.

    The world of entertainment is both expanding and shrinking and Broadway is getting left behind.
    You heard it here first.

    Trevor Chenery

  • Queerbec says:

    I imagine the ever-powerful road producers would have something to say about such an idea, as I know that Broadway musicals, which we do so well, would be a major attraction for HD presentation in theaters around the country. But that doesn’t limit the distribution of Broadway productions via HD to the rest of world (it would help our country’s trade balance and perhaps attract more global tourism to Broadway).

    Something like the recent “The Iceman Cometh” could be attractive as well, and don’t say it is too long, because look how many people attend the Met Opera presentations around the country, and some of them are longer than 90 minutes with no intermission.

    There have been any number of plays over the years that have closed that would generate interest, paricularly soon after their New York close, as “The Nance” may have demonstrated. Even those musicals that are considering touring without the original stars could succeed: Even though “What/If” will visit various cities around the country, I’d imagine people would be interested in catching Idina Menzel in the part, especially if she is not going to tour, as she has the name recognition. Or even the recent “You Can’t Take It With You” or some of the star-studded productions (Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman, It’s Only a Play, etc.) are possible, as would Audra McDonald’s Tony winning turn as Billie Holliday. As for worries about the road, many cities don’t get all of the productions that are touring anyway. The city I am in is not getting “Beautiful” or “What/If” plus the broadcasts haven’t damaged the success of “The Curious Incident” or “The Interview”

  • Joe says:

    For an industry that has become the province of the wealthy – the average buyer has a household income of $201,000, putting them firmly in the 2% – the insanity of not reaching audiences through other forms is also a death knell. Even the tourist, on their decaying Euro, aren’t going to be there forever.

    Why is the Broadway League so utterly useless at making this the number 1 priority? And why aren’t its members harassing them until they do?

  • MichaelC says:

    I attended two broadcast showing of “The Nance”. First showing the entire audience consisted of 2 people (my partner and me). Audience for 2nd showing was double in size (4) because we brought another couple with us. I loved the show on Broadway and the big screen presentation just made the story so much stronger. When attending a recent “Funny Girl” (movie) revival we spoke to a number of folks about the broadcast theatrical productions we had seen (London production of “Driving Miss Daisy” with Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones & Boyd Gains, Austrailian production of “Love Never Dies”. the NY City Center production of “Company” with an all star cast, etc.). And, to the person, everyone we spoke with was shocked because they had no idea that they productions were even available and disappointed because they would have attended. True theater lovers will not use the broadcast to replace attending live productions they will attend them in addition to live productions. Living in middle America there are fewer theatrical options available and these broadcast shows not only fill a void but they serve to introduce so many people to the experience of “live” performance work vs movies and I’m sure it encourages many folks to give live theater a try. I’m not suggesting “Wicked” or “The Lion King”, both of which seem to be on some never ending tour rotation, but there are a number of shows that don’t tour that might easily find an audience.

  • Sean says:

    The metropolitan opera hit. $60M this year with cinema ticket sales. They started in 2006:
    A report outlines the economics of the Met’s 2013—2014 season:

    Last season, 10 operas were transmitted via satellite into at least 2,000 theaters in 66 countries, including more than 800 U.S. theaters. Box office hit $60 million worldwide (average ticket prices were $23 last season), with theater owners splitting sales 50-50 with the Met.

  • Debbie says:

    So glad you pointed this out. I’ve been puzzled by the lack of U.S. theaters expanding to the screen. I attend National Theatre Live screenings regularly—-in addition to attending nonprofit and commercial theater. Access to culture is a win for everyone!

  • Michael M says:

    Silly wabbit: theater is for the moment.

    Theater is LIVE. That’s what makes it unique. It’s a collaboration between artists and the audience that lives and breathes and changes from moment to moment and performance to performance.

    It’s not meant to be recorded for film or television.

    Granted, I’ve not seen a recent version of a recorded stage performance in a movie theater. But there’s a reason, IMO, that the Tony’s feature (almost exclusively) performance from musicals and not plays.

    I don’t believe that screenings across the country bring new bodies to see Broadway: it appeals to those already converted. Thank God it preaches only to the choir, because I would hate for young people (indeed, people of any age) to assume that a recorded performance in any way represents live theater: Broadway or otherwise. It will turn them off of live performance because it’s the wrong medium.

    I attended the taping of the Franco ‘Of Mice and Men.’ Afterwards, I spoke with house staff who told me that at each performance – without fail – hordes of young people thundered down the stairs before the play ended. Why? To get outside for a prime spot at the stage door for pictures/autographs. They have no idea how the play ended (assuming they’ve not read it). I hang my head in shame if this was their introduction to the theater. Why would they return if a mediocre star production = Broadway? And a recording of that same mediocre production shown in theaters across America should serve as an intro to theater for how many young people? Except for preaching to a choir of regular theater-goers who have a frame of reference, the negative aftertaste of witnessing art presented in the wrong medium will not result – in the long run – of bringing new blood into regional or Broadway houses. Quite the opposite.

    And finally, fellow collaborators: why the insistence of marginalizing the authors? Shouldn’t they reap the potential benefits of their work? In this day, I don’t believe it behooves any author to have their brand diluted by recording the work prematurely, especially in the wrong medium. IMO, the lure of Hollywood will lead few authors to cannibalize their brand and happily makes this a moot discussion.

  • Marc says:

    It’s simple math. The production costs for the US can be 10-20x what they are overseas. I’ve seen the numbers, advised some of the negotiations. Many theaters have a stagehands buyout that alone costs more than the entire production cost in the UK or Europe.

    You can talk about the importance of something being “live” and how impure it is to have it on film – but practically speaking, the argument is irrelevant. Theater audiences care about the best experiences possible to them, not the absolute best experience.

    The butt isn’t getting kicked, the butt is kicked.

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