Broadway does it, Off-Off Broadway does it, and now Off Broadway does it too.

For the first time in history, grosses for Off-Broadway shows in New York City were released to the public last week by The Off-Broadway Theater Alliance (the group formerly known as The Off-Broadway Brainstormers which sponsors the bi-annual 20at20 promotion).

And it’s about time, don’t you think?

As quoted in a Crain’s article about the release, 5.47 million tickets were sold for Off-Broadway shows during the 2007-2008 season, for a total of $173 million.

Those figures may seem tiny compared to our big brother, Broadway, but they ain’t so bad when compared to our cousins, the other “must-sees” in New York.  Last year, Off-Broadway shows were seen by 1.7 million more people than visited the Empire State Building, 1.2 million more than visited the Statue of Liberty, and 2 million more than Coney Island.

And all those audience members led to an economic footprint on NYC of $461 million.

Not so bad, huh?

For decades, Off-Broadway has been lying in the weeds, refusing to stand up and be counted, and therefore has been unable to demonstrate to the city, the state and to the public that we are an industry that deserves attention.  And with the incredible challenges facing the future of  Off-Broadway, the fact that we make such a multi-million dollar impact on the city has never been more important than today.

What has prevented these figures from being released before?

First, the movers-and-shakers of Off-Broadway are moving targets.  Many Off-Broadway producers come and go like tourists.  They come in to do a show, and then they take off if the show doesn’t work (and unfortunately, most don’t).  This transient nature of the Off-Broadway producer makes it difficult to galvanize the community for programs like gross reporting, promotions, etc.

Second, I’ve heard it said from some in our community that by withholding our data we’re safer from the unions and from the vendors who might come after us with bigger salaries and benefits in mind if they see multi-million dollar grosses.

To those scaredy cats, I say the following:

First, if you’re not willing to publish financial data on your industry, you’re not an industry, you’re a hobby.

Second, the unions have already found us, and in many cases they already see our grosses (several require it as part of their weekly remittance reports).

Third . . . frankly, I’d love for anyone take the above gross information and try and use it against the producing community.  I’d love to counter with the total amount of money that has been LOST over the last ten years on Off-Broadway shows.  My guess is that it’s close to 100 million dollars. And don’t even get me started on the recoupment to non-recoupment ratio!  (In truth, I think most of the unions actually get what’s going on Off-Broadway).

Ugh.  I could go on about the state of Off-Broadway for blog after blog, but that’s not what this blog is about.

This blog is about standing up and being proud of what the Off-Broadway community provides to the city, both culturally and financially.  Despite our significant challenges (and at times our significant dysfunction), we’re an important industry that is crucial to our city.

And it’s important that we find ways that this crucial contributor continues to feed the economy in greater and greater amounts (to be honest, I’m worried that it won’t, unless we all do something soon).

Special thanks to Attorney and General Manager, Peter Breger, one of the leaders of the Off-Broadway Theater Alliance, of which I’m proud to be a member.  Peter led the charge on this economic impact report.

If you’d like to be a member of the Off-Broadway Theater Alliance, you can!  All that is required is a desire to produce Off-Broadway and a willingness to pitch in and lend a hand.  We have open meetings once a month, and all are welcome.

Fore more information, visit www.offbroadwayalliance.com.

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