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NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze

NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze

JasonC3
#1NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/5/23 at 8:33am

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https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/05/theater/new-york-theater.html?unlocked_article_code=1.Dk0.Agyb.xOQfJUZmdrVn&hpgrp=ar-abar&smid=url-share

"The biggest sign of trouble in the nation’s theater capital: fewer productions. During the last week of October, 31 shows were running Off Broadway, down from 51 during the same week in 2019, according to figures compiled by the Off-Broadway League. And box office grosses at the theaters that share their data with the League plunged to $1.3 million that week, down from $2.2 million the comparable week before the pandemic."

Updated On: 12/5/23 at 08:33 AM

ErmengardeStopSniveling Profile Photo
ErmengardeStopSniveling
#2NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/5/23 at 10:26am

Maybe this is blind optimism, but I don't see significant cause for concern. No sizable producing organizations have folded, save for a few incubators.

Sure there are financial woes and some poor leadership examples: at least one significant nonprofit not mentioned here has a new-ish leadership team that, paired with money troubles, had a disastrous production process for an Off-B musical that has artists putting on a good face publicly, while privately telling people to never to work there again...but despite poor reviews the show's selling tickets. 

What this piece doesn't touch on is the prominence of Enhancement money, where commercial producers develop a show, then subsidize a nonprofit production (usually well over a million) to premiere and develop it for future commercial life (see: Hells Kitchen, Wholesale, Buena Vista, A Strange Loop, Newsies, everything at ART, etc). Some nonprofits can't produce a musical without enhancement (this isn't a new thing post-pandemic); it puts another decision-maker in the room for a nonprofit; enhancement costs have skyrocketed post-pandemic; and, anecdotally, it seems like a greater number of shows are dying after their initial nonprofit runs.

Would have loved to hear from the labor union side, too. I'm sure Equity and others still feel that Off-Broadway is getting away with murder (because any contract offering people less than $1,000 a week in New York City of all places basically caters those who can afford to take a vanity prioject).

As previously discussed, things are much more dire for regionals.

sinister teashop Profile Photo
sinister teashop
#3NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/5/23 at 10:48am

ErmengardeStopSniveling said: "
What this piece doesn't touch on is the prominence of Enhancement money, where commercial producers develop a show, then subsidize a nonprofit production (usually well over a million) to premiere and develop it for future commercial life (see: Hells Kitchen, Wholesale, Buena Vista, A Strange Loop, Newsies, everything at ART, etc). Some nonprofits can't produce a musical without enhancement (this isn't a new thing post-pandemic); it puts another decision-maker in the room for a nonprofit; enhancement costs have skyrocketed post-pandemic; and, anecdotally, it seems like a greater number of shows are dying after their initial nonprofit."



Good point about Enhancement Money which treats the nonprofit as a pass-through vehicle on the hopeful trip to Broadway. This might be one of the reasons for the often unwieldy hybrid of commercial and nonprofit world composition of contemporary Broadway product… an attempt to speak to both audiences yet ending in pleasing neither.

muscle23ftl Profile Photo
muscle23ftl
#4NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/5/23 at 12:35pm

This is just a journalist trying to keep the NYT relevant, shows like Hell's Kitchen, Titanique, Here We Are, Merrily when it was Off Broadway are completely sold out. Theater is ever changing, but Off Broadway isn't struggling much more than before, it's all a popularity contest at the end.


"People have their opinions and that doesn't mean that their opinions are wrong or right. I just take it with a grain of salt because opinions are like as*holes, everyone has one". -Felicia Finley-

Theater3232
#5NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/5/23 at 5:56pm

Exactly - there are many sold-out off-Broadway hits that have big stars and/or appeal to a broad audience. Most of the time, we all know which shows are going to be the ones that do well and the ones that won't. It's all about know your audience & who's buying the tickets.  It's unfortunate the "other board" has its same comments from the same people berating those whose opinions they don't like.  We need to face reality before we decide whether or not to put up money for a show.  Is there enough of a broad audience who will buy tickets?  All the successful shows have this winning formula.

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Kad
#6NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/5/23 at 6:07pm

I think it’s more telling that it’s the Public and Signature are the ones to reduce programming and cut staff. They are also the ones to have huge capital campaigns in the last decade that featured massive renovations, new spaces, and increased overheads in the form of large dining spaces. 


"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."

binau Profile Photo
binau
#7NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/5/23 at 6:18pm

muscle23ftl said: "This is just a journalist trying to keep the NYT relevant, shows like Hell's Kitchen, Titanique, Here We Are, Merrily when it was Off Broadway are completely sold out. Theater is ever changing, but Off Broadway isn't struggling much more than before, it's all a popularity contest at the end."

I understand what you are saying but I don’t think the main problem is audiences - if you scrutinise the financial records of the public for example over the last 10 years as I have I can see that ticket sales are not really a major source of income. Instead, it’s donations or in the public’s case also Hamilton royalties. And the costs have absolutely sky rocketed. Like if I recall in just a few years the public’s costs have doubled but the income remained flat. Maybe due to some poor strategic decisions to try and capitalise on the new income from Hamilton and expand without expecting the costs to blow out. 
 

Whether off broadway is commercially viable will depend on donations and managing costs. But costs are one of the areas like Broadway that just seem to be spiralling out of control. 


"You can't overrate Bernadette Peters. She is such a genius. There's a moment in "Too Many Mornings" and Bernadette doing 'I wore green the last time' - It's a voice that is just already given up - it is so sorrowful. Tragic. You can see from that moment the show is going to be headed into such dark territory and it hinges on this tiny throwaway moment of the voice." - Ben Brantley (2022) "Bernadette's whole, stunning performance [as Rose in Gypsy] galvanized the actors capable of letting loose with her. Bernadette's Rose did take its rightful place, but too late, and unseen by too many who should have seen it" Arthur Laurents (2009) "Sondheim's own favorite star performances? [Bernadette] Peters in ''Sunday in the Park,'' Lansbury in ''Sweeney Todd'' and ''obviously, Ethel was thrilling in 'Gypsy.'' Nytimes, 2000

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JoeW4
#8NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/5/23 at 6:26pm

From an outside perspective, it seems like this was a great fall season for audience attendance. The major institutions were papering far less than in the past couple of years, and as others have pointed out, there were an unusually high number of sold out + high-demand Off-Broadway shows this fall (and not just musicals, and not just the plays with celebrities).

Granted, as another one of these articles pointed out (sorry, I can't remember which is which at this point), it's not just about whether or not audiences are coming. It's about whether they're coming consistently - because if they're not, that increases marketing costs, and potentially reduces the number risks they're able to take with their programming.

Even so, it's definitely encouraging to see that there's still an Off-Broadway audience that's alive and kicking. It will be a shame if these valuable institutions aren't able to find a new, sustainable model to serve that audience consistently - but even if they can't, I'm optimistic that Off-Broadway as an ecosystem will still thrive in some form or another.

ErmengardeStopSniveling Profile Photo
ErmengardeStopSniveling
#9NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/5/23 at 10:15pm

muscle23ftl said: "This is just a journalist trying to keep the NYT relevant, shows like Hell's Kitchen, Titanique, Here We Are, Merrily when it was Off Broadway are completely sold out. Theater is ever changing, but Off Broadway isn't struggling much more than before, it's all a popularity contest at the end."

The productions you cite are anomalies (and as discussed elsewhere, Here We Are and Titanique are not sellouts, tho their #s are still better than others). HK and Merrily cannot be the poster children for Off-Bway sales in the same way that Hamilton and Wicked do not represent Broadway's overall health.

The issue is that the audience for serious, more challenging works isn't there on the level that these theaters need, and donor cultivation hasn't grown significantly post-pandemic. Some of these shows never would have sold well in any climate, and that's why the cushion of a fiscally-healthy nonprofit theatre is vital. Every season needs balance.

As for scaling back, I haven't scrutinized things too closely, but it may be that The Public and Signature bit off more than they could chew pre-pandemic, and being a leaner organization that produces a few less shows might be helpful in quality-control and fiscal responsibility.

Updated On: 12/5/23 at 10:15 PM

verywellthensigh
#10NYT: Off Broadway, a Vital Part of New York Theater, Feels the Squeeze
Posted: 12/6/23 at 1:39pm

Kad said: "I think it’s more telling that it’s the Public and Signature are the ones to reduce programming and cut staff. They are also the ones to have huge capital campaigns in the last decade that featured massive renovations, new spaces, and increased overheads in the form of large dining spaces."

From what I understand, in the nonprofit world, it's way easier to get grants for new buildings, wings, and spaces than it is to get grants for boring things like operating costs. 


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