Audience development isn’t about education, enrichment, etc. Audience development is about product.
The education, enrichment, etc. can be what leads audiences to the water, but it doesn’t make them drink. What makes them get drunk on the experience of theatergoing is the product itself.
This season, there’s a show on its way that has the ability to tap into three brand new audiences who may not have been interested in seeing a Broadway show, save for this one.
That show is . . . The Man Know As Spider.
Who are those audiences?
1. COMIC BOOK LOVERS
Head on over to Midtown Comics
on 40th Street in NYC and look around. Think many of those guys have even thought of going to a Broadway show before? The comic book industry is a huge one, and expect a lot of these readers to be intrigued enough to walk up a few blocks to see how their favorite webbed crusader is ‘handled.’ I’d bet money that they’ll be as critical as Star Wars fans were of Jar Jar Binks
, but, they’ll still go. And they’ll talk about it. And some will like it. And hopefully, for us, they’ll go see something else as a result.
2. U2 FANS
U2 has fans in the millions, and since the band came of age in the 80s, many of those fans are reaching that prime theater-going demographic, and have more disposable income than they did when the fell in love with the band (although probably not as much as they had 2 years ago . . . thank you sub-primers and derivatives traders). When these folks come to town and hear that there is a musical composed by what they believe is one of the greatest bands ever created, they’ll go, whether it’s about Spider-Man or EucalyptusTree-Man.
3. SPECTACLE SEEKERS
Size matters. Whether you’re talking about the Largest Ball of Twine
or the Biggest Broadway Musical in history, both draw tourists. People will go see Spider-Man
just because of its sheer mammoth-osity. It has the potential to be an destination because of its sheer size, not unlike the Empire State Building. People love to be able to tell their friends that they’ve seen the biggest of anything; The Grand Canyon, The Grand Tetons, people love Grand. And people may make sure they see the show, in order to be able to tell people that they’ve seen what could be the “grandest” thing ever on a Broadway stage.
A lot of people have been asking me my thoughts on Spider-Man and its $42.5 million dollar budget, which reports say include $7.5 million for the renovation of the theater alone (that’s more than we spent on 13!). I usually answer by saying that the story of Spider-Man reminds me of the movie version of Titanic. It was delayed 6 months. It was wildly over budget and ended up being the most expensive movie ever made. James Cameron was offering to turn in his royalties. The media said that the movie could mean the downfall of both Fox AND Paramount.
And then it opened and it became the highest grossing movie of all time.
So you never know what could happen, although I do think it’s important to remind everyone involved that the distribution of a theatrical production is just a wee bit different than the distribution of film.
Spider-Man on Broadway is unprecedented. It doesn’t seem to make sense on paper, but then again, I remember when Wicked was in rehearsals and one of the stars said to me, “I don’t know, Ken, this show is either going to be the biggest flops of all time, or the biggest success.” We all know what happened there.
Regardless of what happens, Spider-Man has the potential to develop some new audiences for the rest of us, and for that, I applaud their unprecedent efforts and wish them Web Luck!