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I have spent a few months working for a licensed ticketing agency located in Midtown Manhattan. Over the course of those three months I spoke to hundreds of tourists on the streets of New York who were looking to purchase tickets for Broadway shows, Off-Broadway shows, cabarets, concerts, etc… And I learned something very important from speaking to all of these people:
The only Broadway show that has ever existed and will ever exist is The Lion King.
If I were to make a poll representing the amount of people who inquired about The Lion King, the number would feel close to 29,389,114. Shows that would receive an honorable mention in this imaginary poll would be Wicked, and The Book of Mormon. And every single time someone asked about tickets to The Lion King I would have to deliver the bad news that it was either (A.) completely sold out, or more commonly (B.) completely out of their price range. If the customer came to the conclusion that The Lion King was no longer an option, then I would enthusiastically recommend other Broadway or Off-Broadway shows that might be more accessible. But no matter how many awards were won, and no matter how many critics raved, many tourists did not seem interested in seeing a show if it wasn’t The Lion King.
So what is a musical theatre writer to do? How could a composer ever hope to have their work reach an audience on a national or global scale if it takes a company like Disney and its record-breaking film to make that possible? I understand that not every tourist is going to be enthusiastic about seeing musical theatre. But there is something to be said about the inaccessible nature of information regarding what is happening in the world of New York theatre.
Fifty years ago, the primary city of American arts and entertainment was New York City. Families across the country would gather around their televisions and watch Ed Sullivan feature Broadway shows, actors, composers, and other special performances. These performances would not only inform viewers what was happening on the Great White Way but also make audiences excited to step inside the Winter Garden, or the Alvin, or the Majestic.
Clearly times have changed. Film and television reign supreme when it comes to America’s focus of art and entertainment. And due to distribution, the odds of this changing are rather astronomical. The combination of unethical ticket prices and lack of nationwide theatrical propaganda are sure to drive many potential audience members away from an experience that could entertain, inspire, or enlighten. If the theatre community is actually the community it claims to be, then the distributors, backers, and producers have a vital responsibility to let the general public know what is happening in New York. Jimmy Fallon has his “Broadway Week” which is an incredibly beneficial event for productions lucky enough to obtain a slot. But one avenue, one week out of the year does not feel like enough in order to obtain the attention of potential New York tourists.
I cannot and will not pretend to know the ins and outs of producing commercial theatre. But I do suspect that some distributors do not have the funds needed in order to obtain such a collective advertisement. However, when there are musicals in New York currently funded by Universal Pictures, Disney, and Warner Bros, one would naively hope that the Broadway producing community could come together (likely? Probably not. But one can dream) and work with more major broadcasting networks, social media sites, and film distribution companies in order to promote the New York theatre environment as a whole.
I suppose this notion can be seen as a socialist soapbox, but I’d rather perceive it as a unified effort towards reaching out to many untapped areas around the country. I eagerly await returning to Ticketland and hearing the request for tickets be as diverse as the theatre district itself.