Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theater

By Tim Donahue; Jim Patterson | Go to book overview

Afterword
Looking to the Future

As 2009 began, it became clear that the United States and the world were in a recession. Most economists predict this decline will be deep and long. Virtually no individual, organization, or nation can escape the changes resulting from such a macroeconomic event so the theater is changed by it too.

The effect on theater business has already started. In the final months of 2008, many Broadway shows posted closing notices. Several new productions slated to open in the first part of 2009 were postponed; difficulty in financing was usually cited as the cause. Roger S. Berlind, a producer of the 2008 revival of Gypsy and other shows, said, “We can’t pretend we’re immune to the effects of this incredible economic malaise that the country is experiencing…. Psychologically, people might feel it’s really frivolous to go to theater at $200 a pop.”

To the surprise of many, in spring 2009 these newly empty Broadway theaters were snapped up with a surprising number of limited-run, nonmusical plays, many featuring stars from film and television. As a result the 2008–9 Broadway season had more new productions than have been mounted in many seasons. In 2008–9, there were forty-three new productions, 1,548 playing weeks, and $943 million in total revenue. In the previous season, the number of productions was thirty-six, playing weeks were 1,560, and revenue was $983 million. Details of the 2008–9 season are presented in the appendix. This surging crop of plays may actually be connected to the recession. Plays are cheaper to mount than musicals and can recoup their investment in less time. Producers may find it easier to gather investments to mount plays in this market than musicals, although straight plays never make the extraordinary returns that successful, long-running musicals can. The number of Broadway openings in the early months of 2009 have made it look like Broadway is little hurt by this recession, but historically the theater doesn’t escape the effects of downturns. During the recessions of both 1972–74 and 1991– 93, playing weeks on Broadway dropped below 1,000.

The effects of the recession are being felt in the not-for-profit theater as well. The Tony Award-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune shuttered because of mounting debt; it put the theater’s headquarters in Minneapolis up for sale. When the

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