What to do when the show CAN’T go on.
There were tears running down her face.
A friend and Producer-peer of mine was trying to comfort her, but not much was working. After all, it was her 16th birthday and she had tickets to Hamilton. And this big bully with an ice cold heart named Jonas had just blizzard-ed all over her dreams. She had traveled to NYC last Thursday for BroadwayCon weekend (which was a smash, by the way, despite the snow – see tomorrow’s blog), and was staying at a hotel just a block away from the theater. So when all the Broadway shows were canceled on Saturday you can understand why she could have inspired a sequel to the Miss Saigon tune “Why God Why?”
She wasn’t the only one of course. There was a line of patrons at Hamilton looking for cancelations according to a tweet from Lin-Manuel. We had well over a hundred people at the lottery for Spring Awakening. And I even tweeted that it would be a great day to try and get tickets to any sold-out shows (remembering the blizzard in ’93, when I got a cancelation ticket to see Julie Andrews, Michael Rupert, Chris Durang and more in the sold-out Manhattan Theatre Club production of Putting it Together).
So what happened? And why doesn’t the “show must go on” phrase apply like it used to?
Well, honestly, a line like that might sound great in a football huddle, but when you are dealing with the safety of hundreds of thousands of people, there are a couple of other phrases to keep in mind.
Yeah, we used to perform in blizzards. But we also allowed people to ride in cars without seatbelts. And we also allowed smoking on airplanes. We’re a little smarter now . . . especially in the light of the hurricane that I shall not name that took the tri-state by surprise (I’ll give you a hint – she’s the goody-goody girlfriend of Danny Zuko in Grease), our politicians tend to be a little more sensitive about getting their citizens off the street. And we take our cues from them.
So when de Blasio announced at a press conference that a travel ban was coming and that Broadway shows should close, we listened to our elected elder and did just that. (Whether that was a proper time and place for him to suggest that is another matter entirely.)
And it was the right thing to do . . . however hard that may be for someone like me to swallow who had only four sold-out shows remaining of Spring and had nowhere to exchange the two thousand people who suddenly didn’t have tickets on Saturday . . . several of whom showed up for that matinee.
The reason it was right, is that as a Producer, you not only have to think about your audience . . . but you have to think about your staff. Sure, there were hundreds and hundreds of people that were already queuing up at the matinees and there would have been plenty of people at the evening performances as well (mostly because they were staying in hotels within blocks of the theater). They would have had no problem getting back to their rooms. But a large portion of the actors, stagehands, ushers, etc. who make shows happen don’t live within walking distance of Times Square. What happens to them when the subways are shut down? And the NJ Transit and Metro-North, never mind the roads?
Producers serve two masters . . . protecting the interests of your audience (and therefore investors) and protecting the interests of the people under your employ. And at the end of the day, you might break a soon-to-be 16 year old’s heart, but you are looking out for the safety and well being of so many more, which is what is most important no matter what industry you’re in.
Now, do I think some part of how it all came down could be improved? Sure. The timing of the edict from the politicians above was a little off, never mind how it was communicated. Telling us what to do at a press conference didn’t feel right to me. Broadway fuels Times Square. You’d think that Broadway and its matinees (and all those people) would have been a little higher on the priority list.
People had braved treacherous travel conditions to get to those theaters, for work and for “play.” And with more notice perhaps we could have found a creative and safe way to serve those two masters. We could have kept more people home, but also maybe we could have figured out how to put up our staffs at hotels so that the audiences that could safely get to the theater could see the show they were supposed to see.
Broadway did the right thing.
And now, we can use this experience to figure out how to do an even right-er thing the next time a Jonas comes to town.
Oh, and by the way, the birthday girl eventually stopped crying. My friend just told her that Hamilton was probably going to run until she was 56 years old so she had plenty of time to see it.
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