Does Theater Still Matter?

By Gray, Tim | Variety, June 3, 2014 | Go to article overview

Does Theater Still Matter?


Gray, Tim, Variety


People in showbiz love to hand out awards, and love even more to mock them. Of all the biggies (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), the Antoinette Perry Awards receive the most ribbing, with people rolling their eyes that the contenders are unknown to the public and that theater-going is an elitist, esoteric habit.

But do they matter? Yes.

For one thing, the Tonys are a recognizable brand for the business, which is always good. And a key award can buoy box office on Broadway and on the road.

But the value goes beyond that. At a time when the U.S. is slashing arts funding, the show reminds millions of viewers about the benefits of arts education and support for creative arts.

In addition, Tonys are a three-hour advertisement for theater - not just Broadway, but non-profits, regional theater, and all other legit forms.

So the inevitable question is really: Does theater matter? In an age of 24/7 entertainment from countless delivery systems, is there a future for an art form that's high-priced, has a limited number of scheduled performances, and has physical/technical restrictions that don't hamper other media?

In truth, theater is more important than you may realize.

Here are some statistics:

> Broadway ticket sales bring in $1 billion annually.

> Broadway is the No. 1 New York attraction for tourists, including a growing number (23%) of international visitors.

»The Broadway League estimates that the ripple effect on the city's economy is $11 billion.

»In a single year, Broadway shows will sell more tickets than all the area's sporting events combined (Knicks, Mets, Rangers, Yankees, etc.)

»The road tours bring in an additional $800 million-plus annually, according to the Broadway League.

»The legit "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Lion King" have each grossed After Tony noms, up 23%

more than $5 billion, just on ticket sales. That's more than "Avatar" and "Titanic" combined, and more than the six "Star Wars" films combined.

OK, so clearly this is big business. And while these stats are Broadway-centric, also boosting the local economies are such non-profits as New York's Manhattan Theatre Club and regional theaters (La Jolla Playhouse, Williamstown, et al).

And these places are proof that theater's greatest value is something that cannot be put into numbers.

Theater has been the breeding ground for generations of artists. There is a long list of stage veterans who helped define film (Georges Melies, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Sergei Eisenstein, Orson Welles) and TV (Lucille Ball, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Ernie Kovacs, Carl Reiner). Entertainment would look very different if it weren't for theater.

And it is not just a training ground. …

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