5 Things That STILL Surprise Me About The West End.

If you follow me on the jolly ol’ Twitter, then you know I was in the UK last week checking out shows and seeing what’s floating boats on the other side of the pond.

It has been a while since I’ve walked through the West End, and while our sister theater city and us have a lot in common, there are some distinct differences in how we do business that continue to surprise me.

And here are five of them.

1. Half Price “TKTS” Booths Are Everywhere.

There is an official TKTS Booth in Leicester Square, but there are also unofficial half-price booths almost on every block in the heart of the West End (I counted five in one alley). A lot of business is done by the brokers who operate these pop-up-like shops, and in addition to full price tickets, they offer discounts as well. Can you imagine what Times Square would look like if brokers started doing the same thing here? There’s nothing stopping them, actually (and 1-2 have actually tried) . . . except the very high Times Square rent.

2. Want A Program? That’s 5 quid.

There are no free Playbills in Londontown.  You’ve gotta pay for a souvenir book if you want to read actor bios or find out who is General Managing the show you’re seeing (and those books also have advertising).  And get this, the revenue from the sale of these programs doesn’t even go to the show. It goes to the theater!  (I don’t know how this tradition started, but Producers are getting effed.  It’s one thing for bar sales to go to a theater, but program sales?  Scheez.)  I didn’t end up buying any.  Why?  I used my phone and went to the website instead.  Note to London Theater Owners – expect program sales to drop in the next five to ten years.

3.  Nothing is “off” about the West End.

The last show I saw before I hustled back home was the (hilarious) The Play That Goes Wrong at the Duchess Theatre, which has a capacity of 479.

Yep, that’s right, this 2015 Olivier Award winner for Best New Comedy that is one of the toasts of the West End . . . would be an Off Broadway show if it was in the same sized theater in NYC.  And I guarantee you, it wouldn’t have near the notoriety that it does in London.  By creating a line in the NYC theater market between Broadway and Off, we’re asking consumers to choose.  And in the last ten years, they’ve made their choice painfully clear to commercial Off Broadway producers.  In the West End, there’s no (real) distinction . . . and thus a great show is just a great show, no matter the size of the theater.

4.  It really is cheaper to produce there.

I spent the week in and out of meetings with London GMs and Producers and Investors and the most commonly asked question I got was, “Why is it so bloody expensive to produce in NYC?”  Of course, the question I asked all of them was, “Why is it so @#$%ing cheap to produce in London?”

Labor is a huge part of it, as you’d imagine, as are theater costs and advertising (look for a future blog that breaks down the differences precisely).  But the bottom line is it’s massively cheaper in London . . . which means it’s also easier to recoup.

Listen up NY elected officials as well as our theater owners . . . it’s hard for independent producers like myself not to think about taking our business elsewhere.

5.  They love Broadway.

Let’s face it, London is an amazing theater city.  They can put up classics without stars and sell out.  They get funding from their government to develop new works, which become crowdpleasers like War Horse and Curious Incident.  But despite all that they have in their backyards, I’m always amazed by how much they love and respect what we do here.  There’s a stereotype that the British are a bit snooty about their theater, but I never see it.  They love when we send them hits (although our exports that work the best there seem to be the ones that make fun of Americans), and they love when we embrace theirs.  There’s more that we can do with this relationship, and I plan on making it a mission of mine over the next several years.

Oh, and they also serve these cute little ice cream cups at intermissions.  We gotta get some of those.

Have you been to London?  What differences do you notice when you see a show there?  What do you like?  Dislike?

Let me know below!


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.