Commentary: Nonprofits on Broadway mostly do familiar revivals, not new work

Howard Sherman on his blog, 8/21/12

I studied the past 20 years on Broadway, from the 1992-93 season through the just completed 2011-12 season. [This time period] encompasses significant [increases] in production by not-for-profits on Broadway, [particularly] Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club, Tony Randall's [now-defunct] National Actors Theatre, Circle in the Square and Lincoln Center Theater. Without the productions of [these] five companies, and had no one taken their place, Broadway would have seen only 253 plays produced in [the last] 20 years, nearly 1/3 less than the actual number, a significant reduction in activity. And what of the balance between new plays and revivals? The not-for-profit theatres on Broadway have only been responsible for 39 new works on Broadway over [the last] 20 years, but they're the source of 105 revivals. That's not so shocking, when you consider that NAT and CITS were focused on classics and that Roundabout's original mission was solely classical work as well. But it certainly shows that without the not-for-profits, fewer vintage shows, whether from the recent or distant past, would have worn the banner of Broadway. For new work, the not-for-profits of Broadway play a smaller role to be sure, but its worth noting that a number of major playwrights wouldn't have had any plays on Broadway in the past two decades without the not for profits. This glimpse at the past two decades inevitably shortchanges the influence of the not-for-profit theatre. It does not consider how many of the plays were commissioned by, developed by and first produced in not-for-profit companies in New York, nationally, or abroad, but many of the new plays in this period have those roots. Shows from theatres like The Atlantic, New York Theatre Workshop and The Public, or even MTC pre-Biltmore, haven't been categorized under not-for-profit, though they rightly might be.


Commentary: Regional nonprofit seasons filled with B'way hits of yore

Peter Marks, The Washington Post, 3/15/12

Well, well, hello, oldie! The uptick on the rosters of several big companies in and around [Washington DC] is in the category of titles you'd generously have to call extremely tried-and-true. Who knows? Any of these might prove to be a rousing entertainment or a surprising confection. Still, the shuffling of so much old baggage onto so many of Washington's distinguished stages in one season is not only unusual - it is also a little, well, let me say it, cringe-worthy. [And] this trend is not confined to one city. The paradox of nonprofit institutions building their seasons on well-known or money-making Broadway hits of yore should not be lost. Many of these organizations were founded as alternatives to what was viewed as the popular commercial fare of the time. And it could be argued that a rerun of an old show is one less slot for the nonprofit sheltering of a composer or writer trying to make his or her mark today. One certainly doesn't want to paint the entire season as a professional caving in. If, however, the oldies are going to be a growth industry at nonprofit theaters, anything that doesn't look as if it might also be staged on a cruise ship will feel like an act of courage.


"One can't assume, as an opera producer, it's enough to just do chestnuts"

Marsha Lederman, The Globe and Mail [Canada], 7/24/12

After weathering a tough season of shortfalls and layoffs, Vancouver Opera is back in the black - to the tune of a cool half-million. While the company believes the recession contributed to troubles in the previous season, the programming of two unfamiliar operas - Mozart's rarely seen La Clemenza di Tito and the world premiere of VO's homegrown full-length work, Lillian Alling - in a season of four is now acknowledged as a misstep. "We didn't help ourselves with two unknown works," says James Wright, VO's general director. "We know that people are going to think twice about spending $250 for a pair of tickets for something they've never heard of." This past season - with West Side Story, Roméo et Juliette, The Barber of Seville and Aida - subscriptions were just about restored to pre-recession levels. West Side Story, the Broadway musical which opened this past season, sold 10,046 single tickets - a company record. By contrast, Clemenza the previous season sold fewer than 2,400 tickets. And its splashy annual fundraiser - where the well-heeled crowd was treated to a performance by Jennifer Hudson - brought in far more than budgeted. But nothing is a sure thing anymore. Wright points out that other North American companies are reporting a drop in attendance for productions such as La Traviata and Lucia di Lammermoor. But he adds that even if these [familiar operas] were absolute box office certainties, there are a number of reasons why opera companies don't want to rely on them entirely.  "We are all trying to find the right balance of popular, newer, traditional," says Wright. "We cannot do three or four blockbusters a year because, as you know, we'll be out of repertoire in three years. We also know...those companies that have gone totally to the corner to play it safe with all-Carmen-all-the-time in many ways are the ones having even greater challenges," says Jeff Sodowsky, VO's chief development officer. "One can't assume as an opera producer any more that it's enough to just do the chestnuts."


Commentary: The divide between audiences who want familiar and those who don't

Monica Friedman, blog, 5/29/12

For 114 consecutive years, the Peoria Symphony Orchestra has been producing traditional and sometimes not-so-traditional concert series for music lovers in central Illinois, and for the last five of those years, Carey Gibbons has been keeping patrons happy as Ticketing and Audience Services Manager. Like most modern symphonies, PSO continues to navigate the challenge of a modern world, trying to appease "young people [who] want more than Bach, Beethoven, and Brahams" and "traditionalists [who] only want Bach, Beethoven, and Brahams.... We've had people threaten to cancel their subscriptions over non-traditional programming," Gibbons recalls. "But our best selling single ticket concert in the last five years was when we did almost all movie music. We did Star Wars music and the 501st Legion came in from Chicago, all decked out and the people loved it!"  While the symphony tends to be a hard sell for young people, "there were a lot of kids in their teens and younger at that concert. It was amazing and fun." Still, she concedes, "Staying relevant is hard," and that, "all orchestras have to accept that classical music, like every other genre, is evolving." She laments the divide between highbrow and lowbrow, reminding music lovers that people "conveniently forget that what is now high-brow was once low-brow." Case in point: "People beat each other up in the aisles at the opening of Stravinski's Rites of Spring because they hated it so much. Now, it's a season staple."


Commentary: Arts orgs offer 'tried and true', more often than not, out of fear

Evan Tublitz, Hudson Sounds blog, 8/9/12

[I've been] thinking, as I often do, about the role of music in one's life. Is it just something to...take one away from one's daily cares and provide a musical oasis and respite from the hardship of daily existence? Or does it have the role, or maybe even an obligation, to stir, inform, challenge, cajole, enrich and change one's perspective on life and reveal new ideas and concepts that can create a richer, newer reality? Programming in the 21st century in America is fraught with a constant concern about economics. As a member of a Board of a renowned classical concert series, we struggle to retain audiences in a world where expenses spiral ever upwards. We want to provide 'entertainment' to our audience who pay ever increasing ticket prices and therefore program 'tried and true' more often than not out of fear that we may alienate our constituency. However, I must seriously remind all presenters, performers and audience members alike, that FIRST, Art is about education, growing and exploring new ideas (or new ways of looking at old ideas). In that context, it presupposes that those who purchase a ticket expect the performers/composers to 'enlighten' us and not to just provide us with simple entertainment. I submit that when one concentrates on any endeavor, one's other cares are swept away and we do experience a sort of oasis from our daily existence. But, in this case, we are 'entertained' and also educated and stimulated to think or feel in new ways. It is this role of ART that I most admire and respect. When a person purchases a ticket for any performance, museum, show, reading, and the like, we are supporting both the performer's desire to express a specific view and are expanding our own world view at the same time. Both performer and audience are then bound together in the dialogue of searching for new ways of seeing our world around us. The goal, hopefully, is that both are forever changed and enriched and that Society itself is also made better.

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