Are we producing more new plays each decade or less?

Yesterday we talked about musicals, and today we’re talking plays.

What has been the trend for new plays throughout the decades?

Let’s go to the stat board and see what we’ve got.

  • In the 1940s, the average number of new plays produced each season was 49.4
  • In the 1950s, it was 41.4
  • In the 1960s, it was 35.7
  • In the 1970s, it was 25.1
  • In the 1980s, it was 17.4
  • In the 1990s, it was 10.9

Down, down, down like a submarine filled with sumo wrestlers . . . holding bricks.

But wouldn’t you know it, the average crept up a bit this last decade, just like musicals.

  • In the 2000s, the average number of new plays was 11.7

But still, a 77% decline from the 1940s?  Wowza.

Now yes, some of the decline from the days of old is from the additional theaters that were around/available . . . but 77%?

There is without a doubt a direct correlation to both the play and the musical decreases over the decades and the increase in risk as costs have escalated.

Let me be absolutely clear.  We must find ways of stabilizing this risk.  If we don’t, the disturbing trend above will continue, and as you can see, it’s very hard to reverse it. The best we can hope for over the next decade is that it doesn’t drop again.

So there’s our challenge readers.  Operation “Don’t-Let-The-Averages-Drop-This-Decade” is on.

Let’s get to it.

 

(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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Advice from an Expert: Vol. XVII. My Mother The Theatergoer.

There’s always a lot of talk about the Tonys in the weeks that follow the big show.  What numbers were successful?  Could we give the plays more attention and still hold the audience’s attention?  And who fit Katie Holmes into her dress?

But the most important question for the Producers out there is . . . after watching the Tonys, what shows does the public want to see?

All of us in the industry debate this question like crazy.  But what do we know?  Most of us don’t have a clue what it’s like to be a family of four from the suburbs interested in seeing a show on their next long weekend.  In fact, I would wager that the people making the product in our industry and the people seeing the product are more different than in most industries out there.

But that doesn’t stop us from guessing.

I was in the middle of a heated discussion about my own guesses on what the public wanted to see last week, when I realized it was time to go to the source.  I decided to go to what most advertising agencies would describe as the model of a “traditional” theatergoer:  a suburban female in her 50s-60s who sees 3-5 shows per year, mostly musicals, and pays full price.

And that theatergoer is my momma.  And she’s literally been in my backyard this whole time!

I called Mom, who, of course, had tuned in to the Tonys, and asked her if she would write a mini-blog for me about her perspective on this year’s show.  Most specifically, I asked . . . “Mom, after watching the Tonys, what shows do you want to see the next time you are in town?”

Here’s what Mom had to say . . . [my comments are in brackets] “I watched the Tony Awards a few nights ago.  I love the excitement, costumes, music – even the speeches.  I often get ideas about what I’d like to see on our next NYC trip.  Before I tell you what shows captured my attention from the way they were presented at The Tonys, I thought you might find it interesting to get a few additional details about my perspective (and some of these Kenneth doesn’t even know).  [Yes, she, and about three other people on the planet, call me Kenneth.]

  • My first theater experience was 50 years ago when I saw Annie Get Your Gun.  When the stage curtain opened, revealing a real live horse . . . I was hooked!  [When people see things on stage that they don’t expect to see: kids, animals, helicopters, it elevates the experience.]
  • As a teenager, I was addicted to buying show albums, and also listening to show songs popularized by famous artists.  I loved those album covers and the summaries of the shows on the back (King and I, Mame, etc.)  [Oh, if only popular artists were covering our tunes today.]
  • I was a teen in the ’60s, which put me in the proper emotional state to grasp the power of music.  It brought people together, challenged their thinking and even caused them to take action (Hair, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar).  

And now, here are the shows that I wanted to see and the ones that didn’t interest me (there were many other shows that I had no opinion on – I’d have to learn more before putting them in the “to see” or “don’t see” category).  It’s important to remember that this is based solely on what I saw on the Tonys.  I might not see any of these shows, or I might see them all.  A lot of things may change my mind before I get to New York next, including what Kenneth thinks I might like to see or not.  [Good ol’ fashioned Word of Mouth trumps all, and I can’t believe she called me Kenneth twice in this blog.]

SHOWS I REALLY WANT TO SEE!

Memphis:  The music and the dancing were so exciting, this is at the top of my list.  (I have to admit that ‘Listen to the Beat’ sounded like Hairspray‘s ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat.’ but I loved the music and the dancing in that show, too!)  [Music, dancing . . . the keys to an audience-pleaser of a musical.]

Fela!:  I love the costumes, the music and the dancing.  The story (about using music to communicate) also seemed very interesting to me.  [See her comment about growing up in the ’60s.  What our audience lived through helped make them who they are today and influences what they want to see.]

Million Dollar Quartet:  Loved the music and the story idea and Levi Kreis’s performance.

Red:  I really liked the premise about the importance of art and what I saw of both Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne.  [Mom was disappointed to hear she wouldn’t get a chance to see this show because of its limited run.  I told her if she was disappointed, imagine how the Producers must feel.]

NAH, I’LL PASS

American Idiot:  To me, it seemed like a concert, and not a show.  I’ve heard about Green Day because my other son is in the music business, but I’ve never listened to any of their music before.  The music was interesting to me, but I’m not going to play it in my car anytime soon.

A Little Night Music:  I don’t know this show very well, so I can only base my thoughts on what I saw, but I wasn’t inspired.  I love ‘Send In The Clowns,’ but I didn’t learn anything else about the show through the performance.”
So there are Mom’s Tony Award Takeaways.

Now please remember, this is only one Mom’s opinion. And the opinions expressed here by my Mom are solely my Mom’s and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Moms everywhere or even me.

But she’s a Mom with a Mastercard, and she uses it to buy tickets.  So maybe we should listen to all of the Moms out there more than we listen to those of us on the inside of the business.

So . . . what did your Mom think?

[Update:  My mom came into the city this weekend unexpectedly.  Although she wanted to see Memphis, she ended up getting Chicago tickets instead (and special thanks to Michael at the Ambassador BO for helping her out).  Why?  “I thought your step-father would enjoy it more.”]

Broadway’s 4th and Final Quarter results: How’d we gross this year?

Well, that’s all she wrote, kiddies. The final bell has run on the 2009-10 Broadway season.  All the grosses have been counted, and, as Jerry Lewis would say during his Labor Day Telethon when he wanted to check the tote board . . . Timpani!

The Fourth Quarter proved fairly strong, with the new crop of plays and musicals adding significant coinage to the till (especially the new million dollar club member, Addams Family).

So where did we end up?

At first glance, things look groovy, with a 1.5% bump in grosses over last season and a total yearly gross of over a billion buckaroonies! However, as Charlotte St. Martin pointed out in the League’s release that went out yesterday, “If we factor in estimated figures for Young Frankenstein which ran 32 weeks in 2008-2009 [and did not report its grosses], we could be down slightly this season, perhaps as much as 1%.”

More concerning to me, and yes, this is my broken record moment, is the fact that as I unfortunately predicted, attendance dropped by a startling 3% this season (factor in Young Frankenstein, and you’ve got more of a monster type drop).  This marks the first time in 25 years that attendance has dropped three years in a row.

It’s not unexpected, considering the economic sh*t-storm we just went through (and seem to be still going through if you have watched the Dow over the last few weeks), but it is a trend that I find more disturbing than watching Friday the 13th on Halloween . . . in the woods, by myself, a half a mile from a mental institution.

But this week begins a new year.  And although this summer doesn’t have a lot of new shows on the books to start off with a bang, let’s cross our fingers, and raise our capitalizations and hope that this year, the trend turns the other way . . .

I’m predicting an uptick in both grosses and attendance for this coming season. Partly because . . . it can’t get much lower . . .

Can it?

To read the release from The League, click here.

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“When I say Broadway, you say . . .” Survey Results revealed.

My staffers and I got into a discussion last week about what the word ‘Broadway’ meant to our ticket buyers.  What sort of images did it conjure?  What did they associate with it?  In other words . . . what did the brand of Broadway actually mean?

We decided to find out.

I sent a couple of my loyal staff members (and the ones with the warmest coats) to the TKTS booth to ask 100 female theatergoers the following question (we asked only females because they drive the majority of the ticket purchases):

“What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say the word . . . Broadway?”

Below is a list of the responses (only responses given by more than one person are listed):

Shows 15%
Plays 9%
Musicals 8%
New York 8%
Music 6%
Dancing 5%
Wicked 5%
Fun 4%
Singing 4%
Lights 3%
Theater 3%
Chicago 2%
Crowds 2%
Fabulous 2%
Lion King 2%

Pretty interesting, huh?

Kudos to the three shows that got on this list.  When your show equals Broadway, you’re doing pretty well.  The other good news is what was NOT on this list: expensive, uncomfortable seats, etc.  Actually, only one person out of the hundred associated the word Broadway with “expensive,” and that one comment was the only negative word associated with Broadway in the survey.

Since we found this information to be so valuable, and since my staffers’ coats were really warm, we decided to ask another question in the same style, to the same people.  Ready?  Here goes:

“What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say the word . . . Off-Broadway?”

Below is a list of their responses:

Plays 12%
Don’t Know 9%
Cheap 6%
Not as fun 6%
Theater 4%
Altar Boyz 3%
Fun 3%
New York 3%
Shows 3%
Small 3%
Avenue Q 2%
Comedy 2%
Dancing 2%
More shows 2%
Shoes 2%

Pretty scary, huh?

9% of the individuals surveyed couldn’t even come up with a word to describe Off-Broadway!  And not only were there negative associations in this top group, as opposed to Broadway’s survey which had only positive, but these negatives continued on with the rest of the sample.  Words like “sad” and “meh” and “wannabes” were amongst the single responses we recorded.  In total, over 30% of the people surveyed had a negative first thought about Off-Broadway.  (For those of you who think we misspelled “shows” and put “shoes” instead, unfortunately, you’re wrong. Google Off-Broadway.  The second search result is the reason why 2% of our survey said shoes.)

The takeaway from this survey is pretty obvious: Broadway’s brand is healthy and positive, while Off-Broadway’s image is damaged . . . kind of like Martha Stewart when she went away to prison.

But Martha came back . . . and so can Off-Broadway.  It’s just not going to happen on its own.

A model for the rebranding of Off-Broadway tomorrow . . .

What is the first word YOU think of when you hear Broadway?  Off-Broadway?  Comment below.

(Special thanks to Lindsey and Ashley for braving the elements for this sake of this study.

If we know reviews aren’t as powerful as they used to be, then why . . .

If ever there was a Fall that demonstrated the lack of a correlation between a rave and a run, this was the one.

Both Finian’s Rainbow and Ragtime, two of the Best Reviewed Shows of 2009, are folding way earlier than anyone predicted the morning after their opening, when their reviews were the talk of the town.

(Funny side-story, but I overheard two women talking about Ragtime on the subway, and both were talking about how wonderful a show it was – they had seen the original.  They had both heard the new production was fabulous and both wanted to see it.  Then one of the women said, “But you know, you can’t get a ticket. It’s the hottest ticket in town.”  That’s where I jumped in.  When I asked where she heard that it was a hard-to-get ticket, she told me she had read a review.  She equated a rave with an impossible-to-get ticket.  You can bet I corrected her, and told her to buy a ticket that day . . . and then, after Ragtime, I told her to see Altar Boyz, but you probably guessed that already.)

There is no longer any doubt that sensational reviews are no guarantee of a run or of recoupment, especially for musicals (although, I think plays are catching up . . . notice The Norman Conquests, Mary Stuart and even Godot on that Best Reviewed list).

Ok, ok, I know what you are all saying, “Ken, we know all this.  This ain’t our first barbeque.”

I know, I know, but let’s extrapolate this theory, and apply it to pre-producing.

If we know reviews aren’t as powerful as they used to be, then why do so many of us use them to decide if we want to transfer a show from Off-Broadway to Broadway, or from Out-Of-Town to Broadway???

I can’t tell you how many times over the last year I’ve heard people say that they were getting involved in a show solely because its out-of-town tryout, or its regional tryout, or because its Off-Broadway production got a rave.  Another side-story – recently I asked one Broadway Producer what they were working on next, and they said,

“Well, it looks like we’re going to move XXXXXX.”

I was a bit surprised.  “Really,”  I said.  “Wow.”

“Yep.  I mean, with the review we got, we sort of have to.”

No, you don’t.  And you shouldn’t.

Tell me you want to get involved with a show because the audience is going crazy for it.  Tell me you want to get involved with a show because you think the Author’s message is important.  Or tell me you want to get involved with a show purely based on your gut.

Or better, tell me it’s ALL of those things (you wouldn’t buy a stock just based on its price, or just based on its p/e.  You buy because of a combo of its charactertistics).

But don’t tell me you’re doing it because it got a good review.

Because reviews are like wrapping paper.  They make things look pretty, but they don’t last long.

It’s what’s inside the paper that counts.

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