Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Broadway Bucks

This past Sunday was the Tony Awards, the big awards show of the Broadway theater. Like all industry awards, the Tonys is a chance for Broadway to celebrate its achievements, advertise itself, and, most importantly, drum up business for shows currently running. Sometimes shows that win Tonys go on to long runs (A Chorus Line, Rent, The Book of Mormon). For other shows, a loss at the Tonys means closure (too many to count). Other times, even shows that win big close (like ... Titanic: The Musical) and other shows that win nothing continue on (like Spiderman). Broadway is a business and the Tonys, ultimately, are about business.

What isn't these days?

One of the problems with Broadway today, however, is that it's so damn expensive. The average ticket price for average seats at an average show is over $100. Sometimes you can get discount tickets in the $50-$60 range but that's usually for shows that, well, suck, or that are just too esoteric to appeal to big audiences that don't run long. Otherwise, if you want to see a great show (like The Book of Mormon) you have to pay a huge, huge amount. Why?

Blame it on the 1% percent economy.

In the last decade, something bizarre happened. The very rich in NYC decided that they loved theater and were willing to pay ungodly sums for tickets. This really started in 2001-2002 with the show The Producers where, all of a sudden, people were willing to pay $200, $300, upwards of a thousand dollars for one performance. Now, not everyone will pay or has paid that, but it started a trend. The average price for seats has skyrocketed in the last several years and the revenues for Broadways shows have effectively doubled since the end of the 20th century.

Naturally, not everyone agrees that the 1% economy is totally to blame.

Obviously Broadway shows are expensive to produce. The actors and crews of even a modest show cost lots of money. And Broadway is heavily unionized. Also, Broadway is a huge tourist magnet and, for many tourists who rarely ever get to see a Broadway show, they are willing to splurge. So there are many reasons.

But its an inescapable result of capitalism: if a select few are willing to pay huge sums for something, that something becomes more expensive for everyone else. And then it becomes hard for everyone else to have access to, in this case, the best theater in the world.

I'm sure Mitt Romney would fully approve. 

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