Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ah, the "What's Wrong with Broadway?" meme

It rears its ugly head about as often as we hear "Where are the women in...[fill in the blank]?" meme here in Silicon Valley. It's the "What's wrong with Broadway?" meme, and having lived in NYC in the late 80s, you can imagine I've heard that question a time or two.

Kimberly Kaye tackles the issue for, of all things, The Economist. I didn't even know they had more of a lifestyle outlet entitled "Intelligent Life".

A factor Kaye brings up that I really hadn't thought about was the economy's impact not on Broadway, but on significant Off-Broadway houses...many have closed, apparently. And that leaves certain shows with more quirk, less sure-fire spectacle, with nowhere else to go but to attempt Broadway. Sometimes it works; often it doesn't.

It's a good read, and as she points out: Nothing new is wrong, specifically, with Broadway. Broadway has long been the most commercial of enterprises, vs. purely an artistic enterprise, and therefore it lives and dies by tourists and their dollars.

Could producers examine the model of lowering prices to bring in a higher volume of audience member? I think they should. It's part of a vicious cycle that's been going for decades...spectacle begets cost. Cost begets higher ticket prices. Higher ticket prices begets expectations of something "spectacular" is going to happen. Expectations beget spectacle. And so on. And this all also begets more dependence on tourists vs. theatre-loving locals.

Vicious circle, as I mentioned.

Here in the Bay Area, over the last few years my theatre-going habits have changed dramatically as I've had less time...but also due to that expectations cycle.

Of course, 42nd Street Moon is always on my list, since I'm on their board. And one of the things I like most about their productions is the intimate space and unamplified voices.

But my other theatre-going has shifted from a brief subscription with TheatreWorks and a very long-term subscription to American Musical Theatre of San Jose (AMT) to the more recent 3 years my S.O. and I have been subscribers to San Jose Rep.

With TheatreWorks, I felt like the prices (and local media hype) begat expectations they couldn't live up to for me. I wanted a level of quality I didn't feel I was getting for the price.

With AMT, I felt like they were resorting to more and more old and tired fill a 3,000 seat theatre they couldn't really be too out there...not too dissimilar from Broadway I suppose. When it became clear that our subscription was always going to include way more Camelot and Music Man than Spring Awakening or Assassins, we moved on from that subscription too.

Now, with San Jose Rep, we're seeing way fewer musicals, more straight plays.We're seeing more new works. We're seeing things we haven't see (a hundred times) before. And we really like it. And think we're getting our money's worth.

But it is not a big, commercial, for-profit theatre. And it likely never could be.

What's wrong with Broadway: The same thing that was always wrong with it.

But what's right with Broadway also remains: Amazing talent. Beauty, not just spectacle. The shared, live experience of something you can't get anywhere else.

I'm heading to NYC in late January, and I'll be saving an evening for Broadway, no doubt about it.

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