Monday, March 31, 2014

A Puzzlement.

Articles like this seem to appear every month or so. This one is focused on the “guy problem” -- Broadway audiences are mostly women and gay men -- but others lament the lack of young people, all of them coming from a general anxiety about the shrinking "Broadway audience." How do we get young people, “guys,” and just more people to come to Broadway?

I’m puzzled by these articles, mystified by this conversation.

On one hand, the Broadway industry (theater professionals, media, etc.) are always fretting about shrinking audiences and the particular demographics we seem unable to attract.

On the other hand, we constantly talk about what is or is not a “Broadway show,” which is to say, “What does or does not appeal to the Broadway audience?” This speculation is usually in the context of trying to get a handle on which shows or types of show are risky or not, in business terms, to produce in Broadway houses.

So, how can we be so concerned with what will appeal to the Broadway audience and at the same time be obsessed with the fact that that audience needs to be something other than what it is now in order for Broadway shows to be successful and for the industry to thrive, that is, in order for producers and the rest of us to make money (and make more shows)?

In case it’s not obvious, my interest in these questions, my puzzlement regarding them, is not academic. It comes from the fact that I happen to know of a show that does appeal to young people, that does appeal to straight men (and older people and gay men and women!), a show that is not expensive to produce and would look amazing in a Broadway house, but we keep hearing from person after person in the industry that it’s “not really a Broadway show.”

How is it we’re so certain, and simultaneously so uncertain, what a Broadway show is? Why are we scrambling to find shows that will appeal to the Broadway audience while at the same time we’re obsessed with changing that audience?

I recognize that these questions are ultimately about large sums of money and the livelihoods of many well-meaning people. I’m not (at least not just) trying to glibly make a point here. I really do wonder.

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