The 5 Phases Of Broadway’s Return (and what to watch for).

There are a lot of things that are unknown about our future.

Here is what I do know . . .

Broadway will not open with 24-hour notice.

It’s not like one day you’re going to be walking around Times Square and hear, “Hey!  Guess what? Six just decided to start performances tonight!  Let’s go!”

We’re not a restaurant.  We can’t just turn the stove on and start cookin’.

Why not?

First, we need time to rehearse, put in new protocols, and much, much more.

Second, people don’t decide to go to the theater on a whim.  It takes planning on our audience’s part (from commuting time to babysitters, etc.)  We need to give them enough time to book their tickets.  And we need enough time to let the word spread that our shows are open again. (Cuz spoiler alert – we’d never have enough cash to afford the advertising to spread this message fast enough to fill thousands of seats . . . 8 times a week!)

That’s why I’m looking at the Broadway re-opening in five phases.  Here’s how I break them down . . . and the stress tests of the market that will have Producers like me sweating along the way.

PHASE I:  “We’re back on sale!”

Phase I will begin the moment that some shows announce they are back on sale and have an opening date . . . for real this time!  I’m betting that this will be a group announcement, even if the opening dates for the shows aren’t the same. There are strengths and confidence in numbers.  It’ll be a sign to our audience that these dates are going to stick.

I’d guess this phase will begin at least 3 months before the first performance, but more likely 4-6.

And this will be the first BIG test.

Has there been enough pent-up demand in our audience to warrant buying as soon as they are able?  Will they believe this date?  Will they break the ticketing sites trying to snag a front-row seat for that first performance?

This will depend heavily on what shows are announced.  (I’d expect the heavyweights that people couldn’t get tickets to before to make sure Phase I is a hit.)

PHASE II:  Pre-performances

This phase starts the day after Phase I and goes all the way until the first performance.

We watch this period very closely when we have a new show . . . which, in a way, we all do!  What is the velocity of ticket sales?  How many are we moving per day?  Does it increase when we advertise?  Does it increase as we get closer to that first performance?

Typically this period looks like the front half of a bell curve.

The big question mark is what will happen to those shows that were under sales pressure before covid.  What if ticket sales for the industry aren’t what we hope?  That would mean these shows would be under greater pressure.  If some of these shows miss their Phase II projections, could they decide to not open?  (With Save Our Stages funding in place, I doubt this will happen . . . but we won’t know until we’re in Phase II.)

PHASE III:  We’re back, baby!

I’m expecting a massive spike in sales the week these shows open up again.  Who isn’t going to want to be in a theater that first night?  Or that first week?  The Weather Channel should start issuing flash flood warnings now for the Times Square area because there are going to be Noah and the Ark-like tears that are going to spill into Times Square that night.

If we don’t have full houses those first few shows?  That’ll be a sign that we’ve come back too soon.

PHASE IV:  The reviews are in.

This next phase of our return will be after that hype of our resurrection dies down.  I’ve blogged about my prediction for our return here and I’m bullish that the word-of-mouth from theater folks seeing shows again will spike sales.

But it won’t all be good news.  Provided we get going with more full steam in the fall, we’ll have a big ol’ test right after those holidays are over, as we experience our first January/February post-pandemic.

The winter is a historically challenging time for Broadway.  Will it be worse next year?   Will some shows shutter quickly if there aren’t enough of our locals to go around (since Tourism is still expected to be down?)   Or will it be better because people will still be coming out of their coronavirus hibernation?

It’s not that far away from now, believe it or not, so Producers are probably thinking about this already.

How we get through NEXT winter will ultimately tell the tale on how long it will take to get to  . . .

PHASE V:  Normalcy.

Ahhhhhhh . . . that time when we return to the normal business patterns and trends of Broadway.  That time when . . .

Whoa.

Wait a minute.

Stop.

That will NOT happen.

This pandemic changed human behavior, consumer behavior, and theater-goer behavior forever.

We will never go back to the way it was before (and in some cases that is a very good thing).

There is no more normal anything.

Phase V will be something new that we’ve never seen before.  What is it?

Got me.  It’s an unknown galaxy far, far away right now.

But I can promise you two things.

We will get there.

And it will be very dramatic.  🙂

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I’ve written about the recovery a few times.  If you like this post, you might like the following blogs.  And some were so long ago, I might have been super wrong with some of my predictions!

This made me so jealous I could spit.

Forgive me for the deadly sin I’m about to commit.

I’m ENVIOUS OF AUSTRALIA!

Read this article from the NY Times . . . Broadway in Australia has re-opened with productions of Hamilton, Harry Potter, Come From Away and more!

How are they doing it?  Well, you’ll have to read the article but it involves robots and app contact tracing . . . and the hardest-piece-of-technology apparently . . . common freekin’ sense.

This should be us.  We should be back.  Not fully, maybe (our city and our theaters don’t allow for the space that Australians have to spread out – and therefore reduce the spread).  But we should have been able to get something back up by now.

Maybe had we had a mask mandate earlier?  Maybe if it wasn’t an election year?  (Although let’s all be glad that election happened!)  Maybe . . .

Ahhh, enough of that.  I can’t go there . . .

But honestly, my biggest fear . . . is do you think that this will damage the Broadway brand permanently?  Will our status as the theater capital of the world be threatened?

You tell me.  Because I’m too jealous to type.

Read the article here.

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If you or anyone you know has ever thought about writing a movie . . . you gotta tune into this.

Why we are going to need more NEW musicals when the Pandemic is over.

If theater was the stock market, I’d sell revivals short.

I know I run the risk of getting a Reddit-like backlash for this blog, but, revivals are becoming more and more a thing of the past.

Literally.

Their business model was challenged before the pandemic.  The recoupment rate for revivals of musicals was LESS than the recoupment rate for new musicals.  (See the full write-up and stats on that truth-bomb here.)

And as a business mentor of mine said to me last March, “If your business was in trouble before the pandemic, it’s going to be even more challenging after.”

It was those words that made me cut bait on two side-businesses of mine . . . and I’m so thankful I did. 

I know that from personal experience that revivals have had a tough go of it recently, having lead produced three. And none of them recouped, by the way, including two that got raves and one that won the Tony Award for Best Revival.

And now . . . after what we’ve gone through in the last year . . . they are going to be even harder to make work.

Because in one year, many of these shows have aged TEN.  Their attitudes towards racial equality, gender equality, etc, are not only out-of-touch . . . but now many of them will be uncomfortable to watch.

Which means they either won’t get done . . . or they’ll have to be re-envisioned.  (And Michael Arden can only do so many per year!)   I guess a 3rd option is that they’ll require such massive stars that the audience won’t even care what the show is.  But how long will that last?  And will the stars want to do them?

So if you’re interested in producing, investing, or performing in a revival (of a musical, especially), understand that the risks have gone up.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be brilliant ones.  But they are going to be harder to find.

 The upside?  Because there’s always an upside . . .

Theaters are going to need NEW musicals more than ever before to fill the holes left by the retired revivals.

And that’s where you come in.

If you’re a writer of new musicals, keep on writing, because the renaissance is coming.

Yep, I’m selling revivals short and issuing a STRONG BUY alert for new musicals and new musicals writers.

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If you’re interested in learning more about the structure of classics and how you can use that to create something NEW, I recommend Jack Viertel’s masterclass here.

Hit The “Pandemic Wall”? You’re not alone.

A great writer reads your mind.

They articulate something you’ve been thinking.  But haven’t put it into works.  Or even admitted to yourself.

(One of the reasons for Dear Evan Hansen‘s success is because Benj Pasek, Justin Paul & Steven Levinson put issues on stage that parents and kids were thinking about.  But not talking about.  Hence all those tears of release at the end.)  

This article, called “The pandemic wall is here,” by Maura Judkis in the Washington Post, read mine.

 

If you read #mymorningwhiteboardquotes or heard me speak at our summit (or anywhere), you’d guess that I’m a pretty positive person.  It’s true.  I am.  

I haven’t always been that way, though.  Took a lot of exercise, training, and constant evaluation and coaching to “always look on the bright side of life.”  (Insert Spamalot whistle here.)

If that sounds like staying positive is like an athlete for an Olympic event, it isn’t.  It’s harder.

 

Especially in the last 12 months.  And especially if you’re a TheaterMaker, like all of us.

So, yeah, I know the Pandemic Wall of which Maura speaks.  It’s that feeling that started up in January and has crept into February.  That . . . “Isn’t this over yet?  Wait – variants?  Wait – slower rollout than expected?  Wait – you still have to mask after you get vaccinated?  Wait – Broadway STILL doesn’t have a set start date?”

 

And that’s when you hit the wall.

 

And you want to move to Palm Springs, CA, and get a gig as a golf caddy. 

And eat pizza, binge watch reality TV from the 90s, and think . . . “What I wouldn’t give to go back to 1997.”

I write this to you today because I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve been up against this wall lately.

 

I keep banging on it, of course.  Because that’s what I do.  And honestly?  That’s probably not the best thing to do.  Because this wall is @#$%ing thick.  And swinging your hammer as hard as you can against something as almost impenetrable as this . . . you run the risk of injuring yourself.  

And then you won’t be ready when that wall comes down on its own.  And it will.  It effin’ will.

So, my friends, this is my full disclosure blog to you to say, I ain’t all whiteboard quotes and sweet and silly shots of my daughter.

 

This has been one of the hardest times of my life.  And more recently, when it should be a little easier because we KNOW that there is an end in sight, it has somehow gotten even harder.

If you’re feeling like you hit the wall . . . you’re not alone.

 

We can’t just give up though.  Life as a golf caddy ain’t gonna make you happy.  (My therapist told me that last week – without telling me that – because that’s not what they do.)

 

So here’s what I’m doing about the wall I run into.

 

Stop. Acknowledge the wall.  See it.  Feel it.  Touch it.  It’s real.

 

Rest.  Recover.

When you’re ready . . . do not try to go through it.

Because we will NOT get through this.

But we will get around it . . . if we take care of ourselves and each other.

 

Ok.  Just saying that made the wall look even smaller.  And . . . huh . . .will you look at that . . . I just got a very interesting idea for something I can do right now to make sure I’m better off than when this thing started.  

 

Thanks for listening.

 

Read The Pandemic Wall article here

 

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If you’re struggling for any reason during this time, I urge you to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish) or the Lifeline Crisis Chat.

 

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