Commentary: Shocker - old white people love Broadway

Tyler Coates, BlackBook magazine, 12/20/21

Broadway producer and blogger Ken Davenport [posted] statistics about the demographic of the average Broadway fan who marches through the miserable crowds just west of Times Square to make it to the theater in time to get a sippy-cup full of white wine before the curtain rises. The results of the study will probably not blow your mind. The executive summary of the [Broadway League's] study (the full report can be found here), includes the following fact: in the 2010-2011 season, 83% of all tickets were purchased by Caucasian theatergoers. Naturally, Broadway attracts a lot of white people. While at least two straight plays this season (The Mountaintop and Stick Fly) feature predominantly African-American casts, the socio-economic demographic of the average Broadway audience is not going to change while tastes in subject matter and music tend to attract white audiences (and the high ticket prices won't help, either). Davenport acknowledges that disappointing statistic in his post, writing, "The good news is that there are some cool League programs designed to diversify our audience, expanding it at the same time." But he also ends his post with a somewhat flippant remark: "Just do me one favor. Don't complain about it. If you don't like it, do something to change it." There are plenty of creative people who write plays and musicals that do not necessarily appeal to the major Broadway demographic as defined by the results of this study. But who is more capable in changing the tastes and - ultimately -- the demographics of the Broadway audiences other than those who supply the money to produce those productions? Considering the high stakes of mounting a stage production on Broadway, what are the chances that the few who have the most control over what influences the demographic will actually "something to change it?"


Commentary: How come Lynn Nottage's plays are not on Broadway?

Marcia Pendleton on her blog, 12/2/11

I find myself completely dumbfounded by the fact that the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage has not yet had her Broadway debut. The last four Nottage stage plays produced Off Broadway -- Intimate Apparel, Fabulation, Or The Re-Education of Undine; Ruined, and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark -- were hits with critics and at the box office. Additionally, the plays won many awards. I have a thought. Lynn Nottage has not made it to Broadway because she writes about black women. Why else would a play like Ruined, which won every major theater prize [and] was extended nine times not transfer to Broadway? It could have run longer, but the producer, the Manhattan Theatre Club, had to begin its new season. Imagine my surprise when I heard that this Pulitzer Prize winning play could not find the financing to move to Broadway for a limited engagement. Potential investors asked, "Who/where is the audience for this show?" WHAAAAT? Ruined ran for nine months in front of sold out audiences. Once MTC's large white subscriber base witnessed the beautiful play, its audience became more diverse. Multi-generational groups of African American and African women especially came to see women who looked like themselves onstage. Most plays produced in the theater are about men. However, the audience is largely comprised of women. Wouldn't it make sense that a woman who writes about women would find a welcome audience among women? I think so.


Commentary: Is it so bad to admit that theatre is for white people?

Tom Loughlin, A Poor Player blog, 1/3/12

Given all the demographics we know about theatre in the US and westernized countries today, I think it's safe to make the following conclusion: Theatre is primarily for white people, as both audience members and practitioners. Is it so bad to admit that theatre is for white people? Now am I not arguing that non-whites do not enjoy theatre and participate in it. Of course they do. But statistically speaking, on the whole, non-whites simply do not appear interested in the art form. No other race or ethnic group charts in double digit percentages either as audience members or practitioners. The question that really needs to be asked to probe these numbers more carefully is whether or not these low numbers are the result of institutional discrimination, or simply general disinterest in the art form. I suspect many people will want to believe the former, but the numbers seem to indicate that perhaps the latter is closer to reality. One aspect of this question that needs serious consideration is the economic inequality question, but even that may reveal that whites are more willing to sacrifice economic hardship to see and do theatre. Perhaps an example will serve to illustrate the point. During the Negro League era of baseball, a sport created by Caucasians, the institution of Major League Baseball clearly discriminated against African-American players. But it was also pretty clear that African-Americans were interested in baseball -- enough to form and maintain their own league as a viable business on a national level, and populate it with first-class talent. By comparison, African-American theatre companies today are few and far between, and the non-white plays that make it to professional theatres in New York and regionally are mostly viewed by the same white patrons who like the art form. The thing about having a passion for something like theatre is that you really, really want to share that passion. It is difficult to accept that statistically many people out there simply don't share your passion for or interest in theatre. Perhaps the time has come to say that theatre is what it is -- an art form for older, well-off, educated white people. I don't think we should spend a lot of time wailing and gnashing our teeth anymore and feeling guilty over the constant barrage of data that indicates that theatre is a culturally Caucasian art form. We should just admit the obvious, say it's OK, and move on -- unless we can absolutely ascertain that these numbers are a result of institutional discrimination. What is important is that theatre remain an open "big tent" art form, open and welcoming to all comers of whatever creed or race or nationality.

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