CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why there could be a drought of new material in theaters around the country, nope, world.

The Producer's Perspective: As I talked about last night in my webinar on licensing (which is now in the PRO archives if you want to hear it), the regional theaters, community theaters, and high school theaters around the world, mostly get their ideas for shows from what was most recently on Broadway.

I hate to use a politically charged phrase (especially during this time of year), but I call it, “The Trickle-Down of Titles.”

11 comments:

Emily Lawrence said...

I find this article very interesting, because I do not believe that the only pieces of work people do are the ones coming off of Broadway. Most of the shows that I have worked on have been off of Broadway for a while, and that is not the reason I am doing. Typically, the shows assigned to me to work on have some meaning/message as to why it is being done at this time. The next show I will be working on is Playboy of the Western World and I had never heard of it before this point. I think it is important to do shows not just coming straight out off Broadway because there have been so many plays written with so many important messages. I also do not mind the fact that some shows will be on Broadway for a number of years because they are new and change the history of theatre. I think Hamilton is a show that should run for a very long time because of the effect it has had on the entire world, not just theatre lovers. I also see more shows off of Broadway than I do on Broadway simply because of money and time. I think it is important to recognize that Broadway is not the only place where beautiful theatre is being made.

Aubrey Sirtautas said...

I was a little worried about this article at first because I firmly disagree with the fact that most regional theatres get their shows straight from the Broadway world, and up until the very last paragraph the author made no mention about an alternative. Thinking about the regional model, I would say that in a full season maybe one show comes from a popular Broadway hit whose rights just came available (how many theatres did Mamma Mia this year?). That being said, I would also say that shows coming from Off-Broadway maybe aren’t the best choice for regional theatres either. If companies are having a hard time finding the right fit for their seasons because of a ‘shortage’, even though I am not entirely sure I agree with this premise in the first place, this is the perfect time to foster new and local works. It may take more time and a little more money, but saying that you are hosting a local playwright to help develop a potential hit is a major draw for a community. Maybe this would help eliminate the “Trickle-down-Title” theory altogether as opposed to finding a Band-Aid for the problem while we wait for current hits to close.

Rebecca Meckler said...

I never thought about where my high school choose their shows from until I read this article. In retrospect, all of the shows that we did were recently on Broadway. I think that made it fun for people because the theater people usually knew the music and the other kids had heard of the show, which gave some credibility to the performance. Without looking to recent broadway shows, I wonder what the teachers would have picked. I think it would be interesting for schools to look to other things besides broadway for new shows, though I fear they would cycle through the old shows. I feel a lot of schools would be content going back and doing the same shows again. Especially in schools, where kids are only there for four years, the schools could easily double back and not go on to new shows. I would worry that instead of finding new shows to try, schools especially will do shows they have already done, preventing people from seeing and working on new shows.

Julian Goldman said...

This article seems to be operating under the assumption that there is a certain number of plays that can be on Broadway at a time (which is true) and that number is unchangeable. I don’t see why the number of plays on Broadway can’t increase. True, plays didn’t run 10 years before, so there was more openings for new shows, but that doesn’t mean long running plays will mean no new shows. If there is enough demand for Broadway shows that it is financially advantageous for someone to open another theater, someone will open another theater. Additionally, as the article states, Off Broadway, or at least some Off Broadway shows, could come to be seen in the same way Broadway is currently seen. In theory, the theater industry could just become more popular. That means more long running shows and more new shows. That is the optimistic way of looking at it, and I’m not saying that will necessarily happen. It is possible that long running shows will keep making it harder and harder for new shows to make their way to Broadway, but I think it is also possible that the popularity of long running shows will just bring more audiences to Broadway as a whole, and maybe even all of theater.

Sophie Chen said...

I don't necessarily agree with the author. This reminds me of what Molly told us in tech management last week - Broadway is commercial theater, which means their main concern is doing whatever that is making money. If that means showing more long-running star driven revivals instead of different and new shorter running shows, then they'll do it. Although Broadway is the iconic place that we all think of when we think "theater", that doesn't mean that it's responsible for creating new ideas. In fact, most of the shows that are very new and experimental shouldn't be and aren't on Broadway because of their experimental nature. The title of this article is "Why There Could Be A Drought Of New Material In Theaters Around The Country, Nope, World" but all the author talks about is Broadway. There are theater companies all over the country, and I'm sure of the of the new shows that are being created every day, some will rise and move on to Broadway.

Alexa James-Cardenas (ajamesca@andrew.cmu.edu) said...

Interesting that he uses this “Trickle-Down of Titles” analogy, because it really says something about human beings and our refusal for change. We all have that Favorite/Love, whether that be a musical, a character, a song, a storyline, an etc., and we follow and obsess over it with probably unhealthy passion, but we don’t care, because it is so good. And then we get so depressed when it stops being produced. Almost any theatre person can tell you about a show they were really invested in, and when it was over, the got the Post-Production Blues. With big hits on Broadway, whether it be because of reception or money income or something else, we want it to last, as long as it can. There problem with that, and where the analogy comes in, is that the longer we hold onto a show, the less and less new shows get a chance for the new lime light, and the less and less we get exposed to potentially amazing and ground breaking material and shows. As Robert Frost writes, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, and aren’t we diminishing the value and priceless of an amazing show, by letting it continue to run? Because when does gold turn into a dime, or in other words when does something spectacular and once a life time, become the norm and boring. The beauty of Broadway is the celebration of Broadway and all of it, just some couple of amazing, but overdone shows. It’s hard for me to write this, because believe me that there are something things that I wish went on forever, but the logical part of me fears that I might get sick of it, because it has become something I’m too used to.

Megan Jones said...

I think people forget that Broadway is a business first, art second kind of place. All of the Broadway theatres are businesses, and they're going to put up whatever show sells. Look at Phantom of the Opera and Lion King. Both of these shows have immense popular appeal, and therefore will continue to sell tickets to those shows. They're not going anyway until they've completely exhausted their market. Although it would be nice to see some change in this, the reality is that whatever makes money will sell. We don't just see this in the theatre industry, but in film as well. Right now it seems like the only type of movie being made is sequels, or huge superhero blockbusters. Completely new work that's not already based on a successful franchise is hard to sell, and without money you can't make movies. I would love to see more mainstream and prominent new work in both industries, but as of right now I have a feeling it may take awhile.

Amanda Courtney said...

I had never actually considered how a show being a "hit" would effect its eventual dispersion down into more common theater venues. But this makes a lot of sense. Despite heralding a need to diverge from the traditional system of Broadway, then to tour, then outward to smaller theaters, I think this conundrum is more of an opportunity than a drawback. Though systems can be beautiful and highly beneficial, they can also become rote. I think this gives impetus for the creation of new works to fill in this void. Maybe writers and new works that balked at competing against big Broadway smash hits will now step forward in the absence of such giants.

The next several years will be quite interesting, though I am doubtful that 'Frozen' and 'Harry Potter' will have quite the impact as 'Hamilton'. But this ebb and flow is an interesting phenomenon, and I am fascinated to see how Broadway influences the backyard.

William Lowe said...

This article references a previous article that the author wrote, which I commented on a week or two ago. I completely disagreed with it. Now however, I think the author makes a point that I can work with. It is true that it’s taking much longer for the Broadway productions to trickle down into regional theatres and high schools (but we have Shrek?), but I don’t know if that’s as terrible as the author might make it out to be. If you are faced with an identical bank of shows year after year, then you will want to take some more time and make one of these more unique, which will hopefully come up with some new and extremely interesting theatre. Now, it’s true that the world definitely doesn’t need yet another version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or many other Shakespeare plays, but there are so many other plays and musicals (Shenandoah comes to mind) which aren’t commonly done, but could be an extremely interesting piece of theatre. Perhaps even more interesting than the next best thing on Broadway which is finally released.

Ali Whyte said...

I think that, while many high schools aim their seasons t attract a high number pf people, many of which are probably not theatre buffs, not all of them necessarily choose things right off of Broadway. I do think this article focuses on regional theatre as well, but I find this most applicable to theatre at the high school or similar level. I think that if a high school's theatre budget relates directly to how many tickets they can sell, each night, they are more likely to do shows directly off of Broadway because they are the most well-known and will most likely attract the highest number of people. In some schools, however, tickets sales have ,little to no effect on the budgeting system, so schools will have more freedom in terms of show selection. My high school, for example, had enough resources to be able to put on shows that were maybe a bit controversial or weird or more experimental onstage without fear of not selling enough tickets. Also, there are so many new plays being produced and written for the first time every year, and not all of they come from Broadway. Especially in local or more experimental theatres, you rarely see anything right of Broadway in their seasons.

Ben McCormack said...

When I read the title of this article I was very intrigued about how theatre was going to continue to build shows with a drought of materials. And I was thinking in the much more literal sense of scenic construction and wood and metal and sheet goods. I suspected that someone had drawn a connection between the slow but steady end to certain materials classically used in the building of sets and their expensive replacements. We don't want to use MDF anymore bc of the amounts of formaldehyde in it. Lauan is being phased out and SurePly (and other brand names) are taking their place. But at what cost? A marginal difference in most cases, but still more nonetheless. Which means that theatre is getting more expensive to create, not just because of gradually increasing inflation but also bc alternative materials have an over all higher price tag. Though that is not at all what this article addresses I think there are similar parallels. With this increase in the cost of classic construction methods I think that alternative materials (rarely, if ever used in theatre) will one day be the means by which small budget shows are able to continue to create the same quality and level of scenic units. Additionally i believe that this might usher in an era of innovation in construction methods for productions.

Pics from CMU Drama