What “Bunk Beds” have to do with the future of Broadway.

It was only a matter of time.

Before I explain, I have to take you back to the early 2000s, post 9/11 to be exact, when commercial Off Broadway suddenly became a more challenging place to produce.  All of a sudden there didn’t seem to be an audience to support an open-ended run of a traditional eight-show-a-week model (partly because Broadway’s brand had grown so strong, that’s all anyone ever wanted to see).

To adapt to this new economic reality, many Off Broadway Producers (including the guy click-clacking away on this blog right now) started experimenting with shows that performed less than eight times a week.  And for many, it worked.  After all, as I blogged about here, who knows where the eight per week even came from anyway.  And whenever it was “invented,” it was surely at a time when the choices of options consumers had for their entertainment was vastly different.  Markets change.  And business models should change with them.

The big challenge when doing only a few shows per week is how do you convince the theater owner to give you the space when you can’t pay a full week’s rent.  The theater has to make their high rent too!

And thus the concept of “Bunk Bed” shows, as I call them, was born.  A Bunk Bed show is a show that comes into a space for less than eight times a week, and does those shows on top of another show that’s in the same space.  They share the space, with the show doing the most number of shows, or whoever was in the theater first, gets priority.

There’s a lot of this going on right now Off Broadway.  St. Luke’s on 46th Street is the master of it.  Heck, even though we’re pretty booked over at my theater, we’re constantly looking for something that can slide in on top of or below the other tenant.

And now, just as I predicted way back in the day, it’s coming to Broadway.

A month ago, it was announced that comedian Lewis Black would be doing a series of shows at the Marquis Theatre on Monday nights . . . on top of On Your Feet!, which isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  The two shows are going to share the space . . . putting more dough into the pockets of the theater owner and giving a show/artist that probably wouldn’t have gotten a theater in this crowded landscape a chance to produce their show.

The theater owners have gotten very smart and very creative with new and unique bookings that should bring more people to the theater (look at the return engagement of The Illusionists ever year). . . and Lewis Black is just the first in what I expect will be a new trend.  Give it 18-24 months, and we’ll have seen five Bunk Beds on Broadway . . . at least.


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  • Carvanpool says:

    Nothing new here. LCT has been doing it for years at the Beaumont.

    Maybe there should be a new show called Masters of the Obvious.

  • Frank says:

    This happens a lot more in London than over here. ‘In The Heights’ in London performs at night, and some other show does day shows. It makes sense to keep your doors open as often as possible.

  • Steven Conners says:

    Ken– Don’t forget that Dr. Silkini began life as a late show. Could be again! —sjc

  • Kade says:

    First time poster, Mr. Davenport, and I always am intrigued by your insights. The theatre festivals in Canada (Stratford and Shaw are on my mind) often have as many as 4 shows, each with their own casts and sets, in one performance space. Some of the extravagance of Broadway sets and other technical elements would probably have to be decreased to some extent, but in Stratford last year I saw a turntable house set for SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER one day and a glass carousel for CAROUSEL the next day at the same theatre-so it’s possible!

  • The Marsh, a San Francisco/Berkeley theater that specializes in solo shows that have no sets, is the master of this. 10 different shows are currently running in four theaters. It’s great, because most solo performers couldn’t sustain 8 shows a week, but most of these shows run for months for two performances every seven days. http://www.theMarsh.org

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