Sunday, March 21, 2010

Touring Broadway Isn’t For the Faint of Heart!

While not surprisingly, the third season of touring Broadway shows lined up for the City’s Durham Performing Arts Center is still very impressive and a testament to the power of contract operating partners NYC-based Nederlander and Rhode Island-based PFM.

It also isn’t surprising but still disappointing that the longer standing series in nearby Raleigh folded. I can’t blame them for moving to shows using local talent but from a broader regional perspective, it would always be better if cultural initiatives in various communities complemented rather than replicated.ThirdSeasonThumbnail

It isn’t just that as experts warned, the Durham NC and Raleigh-Cary MSA’s even taken together aren’t large enough to generate enough Broadway goers to justify two series. According to The Broadway League, touring Broadway, even with many more theaters in more than 250 cities ( going on some say 300,) isn’t back to its peak of 15 years ago.

It's not the recession. Over the last 15 years years, even with a hundred more cities in which to play, the number of playing weeks and overall attendance has come no closer than 80% or so of the 1995 peak.

One area appears to be performing better, the gross for the industry, at $883 million in the last full year reported is taking in 10% more than 1995, even with fewer weeks and lower attendance. That may not be adjusted for inflation and keep in mind these shows are almost always very expensive to produce and move around the country.

This may also be why Nederlander has launched a huge Broadway effort in China. Smart company.

Judging by the last 15 years of ups and downs in touring Broadway and the decline in interest overall for both musical plays and non-musical plays, it could be in part due to a consumer behavior termed “access to opportunity.” This consumer trait impacts everything from sports to automobiles. The easier it is to find the product, the less intense people feel to buy right away.

They are still interested, but it is oh so much easier to put off consumption until another day because it seems like there will always be another day. And it isn’t just “access to opportunity” to one item. In this case, “access to opportunity” for leisure in general makes it harder and harder and more and more expensive to sustain audiences for all types of leisure.

That is part of the reason why more and bigger are not always good things. It is also why visitor participation nationwide for concerts/plays/dance has remained around 4% or so for many, many years, the majority of whom take it in on trips for other purposes.

Destinations like Durham are rich in shopping, dining, theaters, spectator sports, museums and art, nature areas, historic sites and much, much more.

It is also why the folks who did the Cultural MasterPlan for Durham made one of the top priorities, the development of a coherent process for making decisions about cultural facilities…

Quoting a very insightful New York Times headline, “Build it and They Will Come (But not for Long.)

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