Is it better to open in the spring or in the fall?

We all know that the spring season is getting more and more crowded, as Broadway shows try to slam themselves into a theater before that all-important Tony cut-off date at the end of April.  It’s created quite a headache for reviewers and Tony Voters who sometimes have to see up to five shows a week just to keep up (and I wouldn’t want to be the 5th show in that week, would you?).

I’ve heard all sorts of chatter about how to prevent this log jam, from shifting our end of eligibility to the end of the summer and having the Tonys in the fall (like the Emmys) to splitting our season into two semesters of eligibility (one in fall and one in spring).  But that’s for another blog on another day.

Today I wanted to look at new musicals that open in the spring, compared to new musicals that open in the fall.  We’ve already proven that shows that open in the spring are more likely to get a Tony nomination, but what about their survival rate?  Does one season produce more flops than the other?  Are you more likely to get past your first few months if you open in the spring versus the fall?

Here’s what we did to come to some conclusions.

There are a couple of big ol’ dips in Broadway business throughout the year.  For shows that open in the spring, the first is Labor Day.  For shows that open in the winter, the first is right after New Year’s.

So we looked at the last twenty years of new musical openings in both seasons to see what percentage of open-ended new musicals that opened in the spring closed by Labor Day.  And what percentage that opened in the fall closed by the first week after New Year’s.

Make sense?

Here’s what we found out:

20 years labor day 20 years jan 2

I gotta admit, the above charts are the exact opposite of what I thought they were going to be.  I had hypothesized in my head that the increase in the number of spring openings over the last few years would cause more shows to not only fail, but fail faster.

But that’s why we don’t just have hunches.  That’s why we have data.

Because I was wrong.

The trend looks to be that there are fewer spring openings with quick closings over the past ten years or so.  And January or earlier closings for fall shows are on the climb.

And if that wasn’t enough . . .

We took a little bit of a deeper dive into the fall numbers, and extended January out just a little bit, all the way to Presidents’ Day.

Look at what we found.

20 years presidents day

Shocking, right?  Without a doubt, shows opening in the fall are having a tougher time getting through the cold winter than shows that open in the spring.  (The fact that more shows are closing by Presidents’ Day is probably explained by the fact that a few shows try to get a little deeper into January before closing up shop.  The first week after New Year’s has trended up the past few years, so more shows are going a week or so beyond.)

Or maybe shows make it through Labor Day because like squirrels, they’ve saved up more nuts in the rich summer months, giving them more of a reserve to push through back-to-school and Jewish holiday filled September?

Or could it be that with awards still fresh in hand, the shows still feel new enough to attract more consumers than their counterparts that open in the fall that have no accolades to advertise?

This was just a scraping of the surface of this subject for sure, and there would be much more digging to do to find out more on the long-term economic benefits of opening in each separate season.  But even this quick data dive proves that despite the competition, there is an advantage to opening in the spring.

The real challenge is, in today’s market, where trying to get a theater is like trying get the Victoria’s Secret Angels to hit the all-you-can-eat buffet at Shoney’s during Fashion Week . . . Producers don’t have much of a choice when to open.

But if you ever do, make sure you factor in the above to your conversation.

 

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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.

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