An Off Broadway Model Comes To Broadway (It’s About Time)
I arrived in New York City during the Golden Age of Off-Broadway. Forever Plaid, Nunsense, And The World Goes Round, Cryptogram, Family Secrets, and more, were a few of the shows running in theaters under 499 seats . . . in commercial productions! And many actually recouped!
When I started creating and producing commercial theater, I started Off-Broadway. I wasn’t ready to raise $10mm for Broadway shows (which is what they were then . . . compared to the $15-20mm they are now). I wanted to be a Lead Producer and didn’t have the decision-making experience yet. And, well, the ideas I had come up with were Off-Broadway ideas (my first three shows were The Awesome 80s Prom, Altar Boyz and My First Time).
So that’s where I started.
No one told me that in the fifteen years since I arrived in NYC, the Off-Broadway model changed. And trying to run and recoup an Off-Broadway show was . . . ahem . . . challenging. (And is even more so now.)
In other words, Commercial Off-Broadway was in a crisis.
So, I pivoted. And so did everyone else in the community. (This is when the Off Broadway Alliance was born . . . and I’m proud to say I was at that very first meeting!)
We asked ourselves . . . what were the out-of-the-black-box ideas that could help restore commercial Off-Broadway to what it was before and beyond?
One of the ideas that was born in this era was the idea of two, three or more shows, sharing a theater. We termed it “bunk-bedding”. It required simple sets, similar lighting plots and a whole lot of cooperation between companies (especially when the Producers were NOT the same people) . . .but it worked. My First Time ran at least an extra year because it was a “top bunk.”
It reduced costs, of course, but also reduced the # of performances in a week that each show could perform. And that was an advantage! Since there wasn’t demand for 8 shows for 99% of commercial Off-Broadway shows, bunk-bedding filled up fewer performances, increasing ticket scarcity. Almost the same # of tickets were sold for fewer shows as opposed to 8. And those fewer shows were filled, creating a much better experience for the audience.
Need a case study? Of the three productions mentioned above that started my career? The ones with less than 8 performances did better financially.
Flash forward, and Broadway (and the theater industry) is in a bit of a crisis as we stage our comeback from a pandemic.
Again, Producers face a question . . . how do we decrease risk, but still produce great theater?
Using “bunk-bed” theory, these first-into-the-Broadway-battle-post-covid Producers are bringing TWO shows to Broadway . . . at the same time . . . to the same theater.
The plays, Dana H and Is This A Room, are transfers from The Vineyard, and they begin performances in late September at Broadway’s Lyceum.
As this article describes, these two shows are being done for the price of a touch-more-than one.
And most importantly, to quote Dori Berinstein (The Prom) . . .
“It gives us an opportunity to bring great theater that might not otherwise make it to Broadway to Broadway.”
What could be better than that!?!?!
No one wanted this crisis. But one of the blessings (it’s hard to find them, but they are there), is that NOW is the time for artpreneurial Producers, Writers and all TheaterMakers to challenge our precedents and come up with new ways to make theater..
Because the theater is too important to NOT give everything a go.
Oh, and when you’re looking for ideas? Sometimes, big businesses like Broadway should look to smaller businesses like Off-Broadway, to see what worked for them.
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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.