Was Rocco right? Is there too much theater out there?

Leave it Rocco to create a little controversy.

Last week, our National Endowment for the Arts Chairman had this to say about the economic challenges facing theaters around the country today:

“You can either increase demand or decrease supply.  Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply.”

This frightening rational argument set the blogosphere ablaze with comments defending our ability to increase demand.  There was a rallying cry of “We can do it!” heard from theater folks all over the country, and some even called for Rocco’s resignation for his seemingly defeatist attitude about our inability to increase our audience.

But was he wrong?

Rocco was referring to regional theaters in his speech, and since that isn’t my area of expertise, I’ll refrain from chiming in.

But I will talk about Broadway.

If you’re been reading my blog for awhile, then you know I’ve been jumping up and down and waving my arms like a crazy person about our attendance figures.  For the three years prior to this season, our attendance has dropped . . . a trend which has not occurred in 25 years.  (Gulp)  We are picking up some of those last bodies this year, but we’ve got a long way to go to get back to earlier levels.  At the same time, we keep celebrating because our grosses get bigger and bigger every year.  Less people but more money.  (I’m not sure if raising prices to make up for the gap is the most sound economic policy . . . you?)

So as Rocco said, demand has not just leveled off, it has dropped.

At the same time, this past Fall saw an increase of almost 10% of the number of playing weeks of Broadway shows.  Yep, despite less people coming, we produced more shows.  And all of this in the middle of an economic pullback.

We have to be one of the only industries in the history of industries that in the midst of a recession, actually increases production!  Imagine if right after asking for a bailout, Detroit decided to start producing more cars.  Imagine if in the midst of the foreclosure crisis, a construction company said, “What we need to do is build more homes!”

But that’s exactly what we do.

And some of the shows that have been produced, let’s face it, might not have needed to be.  (I can name at least 2 if not 3 shows that could have stayed off the Broadway boards this year and saved a lot of folks a lot of money.)

But the free market allows for anyone to produce anything, as long as they can raise the money and get a coveted theater.

What might be better for all of us, is if we took a second look at shows before we rushed out and got them done.  Slowing production, or decreasing supply, as Rocco said, might make us . . .

  • Focus on the audience that is here and give them better quality shows that they’ll enjoy more
  • Save investors money since there is more risk for failure if there are more shows than there is audience
  • Create more competion between our vendors and therefore stabilize or, God forbid, lower prices.

So, while I do disagree with Rocco in that I believe there are a number of things we can do to increase demand, and we should . . . he wasn’t wrong about the state of our supply.

We just might not want to hear it.

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Enter to win this Sunday’s Giveaway: 2 Tickets to Catch Me If You Can!  Click here.


Where is the NEA headed? Rocco tells all.

If you’ve wondering what Ex-Commerical Producer, former head of Jujamcyn Theaters and still new-to-the-gig National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman has in store for his government-funded arts agency, you might want to check out this article.

In it, Rocco talks about how long he plans on playing in the political sandbox, what he wants his NEA legacy to be, and how hard it is to remember that arts and politics are like vampires and musicals. . . they just don’t work very well together, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

Keep on fighting, Rocco.  We’ll send you all the cloves of garlic you need.

This blog written by the President of the United States.

Last night, some of Broadway’s Best were invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to perform as part of the White House Music Series.  Nathan Lane, Elaine Stritch and Jerry Mitchell were just a few of the names that helped entertain the President, his family, and all the other West Wingers invited to the show.

Before the entertainment began, Mr. Potus shared a few words of his own about what Broadway means to him, and to the country.

And well, I think I’ll just let him take it from here.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.  (You don’t have to stand)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Let’s put on a show.  (Laughter.)  Welcome to the White House.  I am just thrilled, and I know Michelle is thrilled, to host the sixth in a series of evenings celebrating the music that helped to shape America.

Now, so far we have heard from some of the biggest names in jazz, in country, in Latin, classical, and the music of the civil rights movement.  And tonight we are honored to be joined by some of the biggest and brightest stars on Broadway.

And I notice — I should just point out that I see a lot of members of the New York delegation here.  (Laughter.)  They take great pride in Broadway.  I want to start by thanking George C. Wolfe and Margo Lion for making this event possible.  So please give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  And I want to thank all of tonight’s performers for sharing their gifts with us.  They are just so generous with their time, and this will be a wonderful evening.

I also want to recognize my outstanding Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, who is in the house.  Here she is right here.  (Applause.)  As well as the other members of the administration  — thank you guys for the hard work you do each and every day.

Thank you to the National Endowment for the Arts, and the President’s Council on the Arts and the Humanities for their continued support.

And I finally want to recognize Jerry Mitchell and everybody who participated in the dance workshop earlier this afternoon and helped inspire the next generation of performers — as well as my wife — to do a few dances.  (Laughter.)  She was showing off backstage.

Now, as we’re about to see this evening, there’s nothing quite like the power and the passion of Broadway music.  At its heart, it’s the power of a story -– of love and of heartbreak; of joy and sorrow; singing witches, dancing ogres.  Musicals carry us to a different time and place, but in the end, they also teach us a little bit of something about ourselves.  It’s one of the few genres of music that can inspire the same passion in an eight-year-old that it can an 80-year-old –- and make them both want to get up and dance.  It transcends musical tastes, from opera and classical to rock and hip-hop.  And whether we want to admit it or not, we all have the lyrics to a few Broadway songs stuck in our heads.  (Laughter.)

In many ways, the story of Broadway is also intertwined with the story of America.  Some of the greatest singers and songwriters Broadway has ever known came to this country on a boat with nothing more than an idea in their head and a song in their heart.  And they succeeded the same way that so many immigrants have succeeded -– through talent and hard work and sheer determination.

Over the years, musicals have also been at the forefront of our social consciousness, challenging stereotypes, shaping our opinions about race and religion, death and disease, power and politics.

But perhaps the most American part of this truly American art form is its optimism.  Broadway music calls us to see the best in ourselves and in the world around us -– to believe that no matter how hopeless things may seem, the nice guy can still get the girl, the hero can still triumph over evil, and a brighter day can be waiting just around the bend.

As the great Mel Brooks once said, musicals “blow the dust off your soul.”  So to everyone watching, both here and at home, here’s a taste of Broadway to help us do just that.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)